In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, Kaya and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week — the world’s first known drag queen, Black entrepreneurship in under-resourced D.C. neighborhood, an alarming trend of missing children in Cleveland, and the heightening suicide rate within the Black male community.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People, in this episode it’s me, De’Ara, Myles and Kaya talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week. The underreported news about justice and race and equity that should have been national headlines that might not have been or take on what was. We talk about the world’s first known drag queen. We talk about entrepreneurship, Black entrepreneurship in DC. We talk about the alarming trend of missing kids in Cleveland. We also had a much needed conversation about male suicide within the Black community. And if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, speak to someone and search for free wellness resources within your community, Remember you are not alone. Here we go.
De’Ara Balenger: Family. We missed you. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger, you can find me on Instagram at @dearabalenger.
Myles E. Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter at @HendersonKaya.
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: So deep sigh as we get into this one. But given. We don’t want to call anybody out. But given what some Black media outlets are saying about this incident, we thought it was only right. Given our wise and neutral perspective to talk about this, Kimora Lee Simmons, Russell Simmons situation. [pause] I am still completely confused why Russell Simmons hasn’t been taken down fully yet. See what I mean by neutral perspective. So I was very confused to see that this got so much buzz around. Um. It got so much buzz last week. Kimora and Russell’s daughters both saying that he’s being abusive. And he needs he needs, basically he needs support and he needs he may have may have some mental health issues. So it kind of blew up for a day. Now it is completely gone away this week. Basically, um you know, it’s been an interesting ride with Russell Simmons, given that he was accused of rape and sexual assault over the course of, I don’t know, a decade or so um and nothing really came of that. There was a documentary on it. There was some some light fanfare around the documentary, but definitely nothing that could change or impact his life in suit after that. So I don’t know. Curious about what you all saw, particularly those of us who really know what’s going on on the Internet. Um. Yeah, I just I think it’s just really bizarre to me to this whole situation.
Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. I think the weirdest part is that Russell Simmons, you know, does have that documentary how [laugh] about about him um and that, you know, it was Kimora and his daughters saying everything that they had to say about him was I guess like kind of shocking for for me that the fact that they went public but the content of it didn’t miss a line because I did watch the um the documentary with Drew Dixon and um and the other and the other um victims of of Russell Simmons. And, you know. I mean hot off the presses take ever it’s just so interesting to remember Kimora defending Russell. You know, and I do think that those things that have to do with, you know, even her being groomed and meeting him at 16. But I, I can’t help but think that, oh, wow, this could be easier. Or it just kind of went easier if we believed victims the first time, if we said, well, Black women specifically in these male and Black ran industry seriously, we wouldn’t be so surprised and maybe we wouldn’t have to kind of feel like almost a little bit feel like we’re starting over, if that makes sense. This, this, this, this, this feminist we like, oh, now we now we have enough. And now it’s start over, kind of reminds me of R. Kelly where like something new needed to happen each time for us to start over because the first time was enough, the second time enough and the third time was enough. Um. I’m feeling a little bit that way about Russell, where I’m like, this is a, a few years ago where this came out and Oprah said something and we and we were around and there was a lot of, you know, respectable Black women who said it. And now and now we’re here again trying to say this person’s not safe for um the community. So. Yeah.
Kaya Henderson: Yeah. Myles, I like you. I think um one of the surprising things was how she was like, I’m tired of defending him. And he is all of these things that people say. And and I felt a little um like I mean, first of all, I feel terrible for Kimora and for Aoki and all of them. And, you know, the thing the way he talks to them and the way he talks about them, I feel terrible for all of that. But I also felt some kind of way about like, you know, now that you are in trouble or now that you are catching heat from this dude, now you’re like, I’m tired of defending him. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of that. I’m tired of, what about all of those other women who were who were tired of being abused and you were complicit in the cover up and the after abuse and whatnot, and now it’s coming your way and so we should all feel sorry for you. When you didn’t feel sorry for them. Um. This is petty Kaya talking. And she lives here too. And so I just want to keep it real. [laughing] Um. I also I really I mean watching that young lady watching Aoki like really just have a uh like a break down on on social media like I’m so worried about the youngs and and their mental health and it just was heartbreaking to watch this young lady beg her father to stop talking to her like this and and feel like she needs to put her life on display on social media. It was so disturbing to me. Um. In my old ladydom I was like, come on, y’all but it where’s the therapist? Where’s the interventionist? Where are the where are the people whose, where’s the team? Everybody’s got a team. Where’s your team? Where’s your team making sure that this stuff is not happening on, on the socials? Because that is an added dimension that makes an already horrible situation even worse. It was deeply disturbing to me.
DeRay Mckesson: I think I was um. So I agree with you Kaya. I was saddened and I was appreciative of Kimora saying, you know, I’m not going to defend him. And it totally in one moment took away her, and what some people were like, well, maybe she didn’t know she wasn’t there. Right. She wasn’t in the rooms when Russell did it. And it’s like, no, no, no, she she it was clear. She knew it was clear that she was not like a random person who didn’t witness this side of him. She saw the only good side and he was bad outside. It’s like, no, no, no. She actually saw it. And and that was sad. And it was it reminded me of the complicity of of victims even in perpetuating abuse. Right. Like that whole moment. The other thing is that this seemed pretty cut and dry to me. Like it was like, okay, Russell is a bad actor. The kids are dealing with it in a in a way that they should not even have to deal with anything. Kimora doesn’t know what to do, which is why she’s going to social media, because this is it felt very last resorty. And then I see the Breakfast Club and their defense of him is so stunning to me that I’m even I’m like [laugh] of all the things that take away from that, the idea that you don’t criticize him because this is your father, because this is your family, because if you really loved your parent, you wouldn’t do it this way because he’s famous and you’re trying to embarrass him. They actually said that. Those were like, that’s not even a poor paraphrase. That is a more generous repeating of what they said than they deserve. And I just want to say out loud that that is how abuse cements itself in families. That is how kids and partners get abused for decades, because people are like, you know, we’ll deal with it inside the house. We will and kids come out traumatized. Whole communities are affected by that behavior. The idea that Russell Simmons can do whatever he wants and those women can’t say anything about it to anybody because that’s their dad is such a wild thing to say out loud, especially because he’s not accused of not giving you lunch money. He’s not accused of, you know, he won’t buy you the Ferrari. He bought you a Saturn. Right. This is rape. This is abuse. This is financial abuse. I mean, these are legitimate concerns. And for the Breakfast Club with such a big platform in Black communities to legitimize abuse and wrap it up in the idea of love was just scary actually, I wasn’t even I wasn’t even sad about it. I was scared for the families that will consume that and abuse will continue.
Myles E. Johnson: Even worse it’s like I think I think about people who oh hopefully there’s not many, people who are looking for the Breakfast Club as kind of like guiding lights and compasses morally, intellectually that that that is scary for which is which is you know that’s scary. But I think the worst thing are people who where it just cements what they already think and I think and they already feel that way about um those kind of conflicts and abuse. And it just kind of cements their reality. And I think that in media you have such a good opportunity to disrupt maybe a shared thought um by dissenting against it and using these moments to, you know, break the hegemonus way of thinking that we might have adopted of thinking. And they just they just gave up that opportunity. [laughing] Really.
De’Ara Balenger: I don’t know why I was so obsessed, but I actually was following all the submarine news. And mostly because, you know, I live in a household with a journalist who nonstop covers immigration, is always at the border. We’re always talking about how unsupported asylum seekers and other folks who are coming to this country and going to other countries to find better lives for themselves are completely unsupported. So to watch the intensity to which this thing was covered, where rich people who are doing an adventure tour of the Titanic, side note rich people, if you need to know what to do with your money, please call me and ask me because I will help you [laughter] so that you don’t become become casualties in a submarine explosion. Um. But I thought that was it was it was just wild to know that this industry it exists, number one, um that there was so much interest around it. Um. And then really it just was kind of like the media kind of taking us along this journey when all along most of the people that are like experts in the field knew the thing exploded that day. So. What did what did y’all, were y’all following? What do you think? What is happening?
Myles E. Johnson: Well, I am grateful for the fact that I am now um an aquamarine biologist in less than a week because of all the things [laughter] I consumed. And it’s official. So, you know.
Kaya Henderson: Yes.
Myles E. Johnson: [laugh] The silver lining of the of the of the of the sea cloud is that. [laughing] I know so much–
Kaya Henderson: You got a whole new career option.
Myles E. Johnson: I have a whole new career option.
De’Ara Balenger: Myles that’s like like–
Myles E. Johnson: I know about deep pressure and I’m saying I’m counting in meters and not just this big and this big. I’m now just doing the aquamarine biologist life thing, and I’m wearing lots more shades of blue. I think the um the the the thing that was the most interesting to me about it, of course, like the critique around the, you know, America doing something for for rich people and not for, you know, vulnerable people like, yeah, absolutely true but kind of like that is on rhythm for for for America unfortunately. I think that the thing that is most interesting to me is the the the poetry in it, I guess like just the idea that it was they were going to see like the like the whole idea around Titanic that captured any interest of mine was the fact that it was a class issue when that certain people didn’t get to live and certain people um didn’t get to survive simply because of class and here is this other thing that like is is kind of perpetuating this like class issue where um even now I don’t I don’t have the the institution correct. But I know now like some kind of like esteemed institution associated with the Titanic is going to like help or they’re going to be in the in the memorial with them now. So even like in this like embarrassing silly death, they’re still kind of being made like serious um by where they’re being uh buried and honored. And I think that I mean I don’t know. I think just the class story of if you have enough money, you it will always be somebody will always make a statue of somebody. [laugh] Somebody will always make it seem like what you did was uh not so silly or or or great. And I just totally think about people, you know, 150 years from now looking at that same memorial like, you know, memorial and be like, well, who are these people from 2023? And figuring it out why they’re included. And it has nothing to do with the Titanic. It just has to do with, you know, having too much money and shoddy um technology. But now that I’m on the scene, the technology will be improving and it will be getting way cuter.
De’Ara Balenger: Well, they’re and they’re already hiring for the man that was controlling the submarine that perished. So if you’re–
Myles E. Johnson: [?]
De’Ara Balenger: –looking for a role, they’re already they’re already hiring.
Myles E. Johnson: And I have three um PlayStation controllers, which [laughter] and also like–
Kaya Henderson: Um I–
Myles E. Johnson: –sorry I was just saying.
DeRay Mckesson: That was good.
Myles E. Johnson: So somebody talking–
DeRay Mckesson: I’ll give you that one.
Myles E. Johnson: -somebody talking about how like nobody took this seriously who was Black, I’d never seen anything like it. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: Well, you’re surprised?
De’Ara Balenger: Well, I first of all my aunt, I have a auntie who no, one of my aunties took it seriously. But then–
Myles E. Johnson: Okay
De’Ara Balenger: –but she spiraled on in in our family group chat. Do you know how many Black people were on the Titanic? So then she was started to research the Black people on the Titanic. I was like. While this is helpful, I don’t know how we got here. [laughing]
Myles E. Johnson: Uh uh.
Kaya Henderson: I mean, I could not think of I mean, maybe I could, but that was it like it just struck me as a horrific way to die. Right. Five of us or whatever, in a little metal room with a toilet in the corner. Evokes jail to me a little bit. And we’re deep deep under the sea. And we explode, like horrific. Horrific. And then to read the stories about the people who didn’t really want to go and all that, we knew about how shoddy the equipment was and how many risks people were taking like it it is it just it’s like none of it had to happen. And so it adds insult to the people’s death that like this was totally preventable. It didn’t have to go down this way. And I do think uh like I I, you know people are like, oh, don’t make fun of you know people dying and all of that kind of thing. And, you know, with reverence and respect for the people who died. I also think it is absolutely unreasonable to not point out the sheer I don’t even know hubris. The the the wealth something like whatever. All of the things that made this happen at the same time as you know we’re watching real people who really need to change their life circumstances perish and and how we treat that in the media is completely different. Like here’s the thing. I was not obsessed with it. I was not following it. Um. I thought it was I like, I don’t know. I just felt like it was a misplacement of my valuable time and energy. I was glad you know I, when they were saying, oh, they have 40 more hours or 48 more hours. And then we found out that they had died days ago. I was like, great. I’m glad that we are no longer on death watch. Like the whole thing–
Myles E. Johnson: Not the slapping sound
Kaya Henderson: –was super weird to me. Sorry. [laughing]
Myles E. Johnson: Not the slapping sound. Kaya Kaya is an educator through and through, just in case you didn’t know.
Kaya Henderson: Ay yi yi. Mmm.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah Kaya I’m with you and you know, if not for Black Twitter, I don’t think I would have known a single thing about this. Because Lord knows the memes the everything about it. Twitter was on 10,000. The meme of like, if you survived, how would you get out of the submarine? Top tier it was. I mean, the content was really special.
Myles E. Johnson: Iconic Twitter day.
DeRay Mckesson: Oh, it was like old Twitter back. I do think it’s it was also a reminder of like, what money does that like because they were just so wealthy, not enough people ask questions, not enough people forced order or expectations like that would have saved them. And this is like what happens in the political space is that, you know, what one of those states. Right, just got rid of the regulations that some set of workers had to take breaks every ten minute I mean, ten minutes, every hour. It’s like the quest to do whatever they want normally is some sort of like commercial enterprise. But this one was just purely pleasure. Uh. Yeah. People just let them do it and to the detriment to their detriment and frankly, to ours. Right. Like we what why were we all paying attention to that? That was ridiculous. I will say the graphics that emerged, too brilliant. I didn’t know how deep 14,000 feet was until this happened. It’s like, why would you even, what there is you would have to send me to 15 seminars to show me every aspect of the of the submarine that is going to take me that deep. When I saw that image of how deep they were going. And then it’s like to what? Yes, that is so far that and then to just drive by underwater you like what you seeing? It’s a wreck, you know, like we there’s a museum with stuff already. You don’t need to go down to the but again, there is something about wealth, especially white wealth that is like you can do whatever you want. And the voyeurism, this was like a beautiful example of the voyeurism of whiteness that like they just had to see it. They had to see the death and destruction. They just needed to witness it themselves because the museum and the movies and stuff was not enough. And people let them do it. And here they are. The rebranding of them as victims is wild. They chose that route and they chose a ending that was tragic. That is just true. There is I don’t know anybody who would get in a vessel that tight with that loose of whatever, and they knew they were going. If you told me we riding this to the grocery store and we then we magically go out to sea, you know, you got me. These people that’s not what happened. They knew where they were going except for the little boy. The little boy, the son. He is the victim here. But the idea that they get included in the memorial and all that stuff, they chose this. This is that is sort of wild, especially when the migrants trying to flee places um and nobody’s helping them. And like, it was like a whole set of countries send out the Coast Guards and stuff to try to find these people for what? They chose this. So that was sort of wild to me.
De’Ara Balenger: I think the last thing I’ll say on it is just that the legal perspective. First of all, these folks unless they unless they prove that it was like extreme negligence. There’s no lawsuit against the submarine the sub company. And the other thing that ends up happening is that all all of the U.S. assets that were sent to find these people, that is paid by taxpayer dollars. So that is just the way that it’s set up, that if there’s a rescue mission, no matter if people put their own selves in peril, the U.S. government foots the bill on that. So I think the other part about this is like the complete unaccountability all around at this company is not you know, they’re like getting off scott free.
Myles E. Johnson: And the last last last thing I’ll say about it is what I do love about Black capitalists and rich people is I do think that there’s a little bit of like a boujee thing that gets baked into us about how we want to see things esthetically. And I think that in times like now where we’re where we’re going with technology, it can really be like a superpower because just off of pure esthetics they, it just looks crazy in there. They didn’t try to make it look like, you know, a private jet with the all beige. I would have went in there and be like, do you know, I am a Black billionaire. Do you know that Madam C.J. Walker–
DeRay Mckesson: Myles. [laugh]
Myles E. Johnson: –flew so I can fly private? She flew so I could fly private. I’m not about to sink in this. It’s not even gold. I’m not doing none of that. [laughing] So.
DeRay Mckesson: Myles. It did look very much like a inside of a can of peas and you’re like what is this?
Myles E. Johnson: Ms. Frizzle wouldn’t even ask you all to go on there. Ms. Frizzle would have been like, No, this is too jank for us. [laughter]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
Kaya Henderson: My news this week is um combines our respect for and celebration of pride with some unknown DC Black history. I’m very excited to share with you um the story of William Dorsey Swann. So there is a street in DC called Swann Street, S-W-A-N-N, and it’s in DuPont Circle, which is a very [?] neighborhood of D.C. It’s also a very um it’s the neighborhood where the gay pride parade is held. There are lots of gay bars and it’s sort of the center of um some gay life in Washington. [laugh] Um. And Swann Street is this idyllic little block with lovely homes and whatnot. And it has it’s thought to be named after um the former mayor of Baltimore and the former governor of Maryland, Thomas Swann. But thanks to a recently passed um bill by the D.C. City Council, they are renaming Swann Street or dedicating Swann Street um after the in the memory of William Dorsey Swann. William Dorsey Swann was a formerly enslaved D.C. resident and he was the world’s first known drag queen. How about them apples? Um. It turns out that William Dorsey Swann was born into slavery in Hancock, Maryland, and he later moved to D.C. after emancipation, where he actually conducted what are known as the first drag balls. Um. He wore and and I don’t, we knew about drag balls in the twenties and thirties in Harlem. But this is like the 1880s, and um [shuffling on microphone] heretofore it seems people didn’t even realize that um these kinds of balls were happening. Um. He hosted balls in secret, and he had men who would come together and dress and dance. They competed in dances like the Cakewalk, which was a dance that the enslaved people performed pre-Civil War, which mimicked the plantation owners and actually um resembles voguing, according to the researchers. And while there are no you know videotapes or recordings or anything, um we know about these things because the police would raid the balls all the time. And the only way that we know about these things is because there were police reports. And um and Dorsey Swann would get dragged into the police station and they’d pull off his dress and that kind of thing. And there are newspaper accounts of that. And so I just thought that this was really interesting because who knew that the first officially recognized drag queen was um an African-American man, a former enslaved man? The term drag, the balls were called drags and the queen was the person who hosted the ball. And that’s where the term drag queen came from. Um. But these drag that he hosted were um legendary. And I thought it was really interesting. I think um you know we talk about representation. We talk about seeing ourselves in history and how important that is, especially for our young people. And this for me, was a totally new historical story that we didn’t know. And um I’m excited about it, and I’m proud of the D.C. City Council for unanimously passing a bill to recognize um William Dorsey Swann.
Myles E. Johnson: That is so beautiful. I feel. I feel we are family playing in my heart right now. I love stories like this. No. It’s super beautiful. I’ve been thinking about um. I mean, I don’t know in what ways I want to express it, but I’ve been thinking about how just in recent years, but just since drag has been created, how this kind of like gender conversation has like also happened. And as like I feel like the transgender conversation has been able to happen more, the more that I’m like seeing a shift happening like the in the drag community, even the one that I grew up in, or the one that I like grew up viewing, and just seeing how uh gender expression, uh trans aesthetics, um all these other things, that kind of were just only done by people who were and who were moon people [laugh] who were just people who were out at night, how those things are just becoming uh just more proliferated and more common and seen more commonly in the out in the sun. And um anytime I hear a story like this, the reason why I I bring that up is because any time I hear a story like this, I can’t help but wonder, like what would be the identities if given the choice. You know um, if if having if if given the choice, what would be the identify. Identities as just people, are we um I mean, I shouldn’t say misgendering, because it’s not like done derogatory, but like what what the what the people that we know as he/hims and and and she/ hers would they if they had the the the ability what what what would they go by? You know um it reminds me of me even seeing Isaac Mizrahi [laugh] um earlier um this week and how Isaac Mizrahi said like if he had the um opportunity back in his childhood that he think he would probably arrive at a totally different gender identity and totally different um ways of thinking about gender. And yeah, I guess I’m taking a little bit of a stretch with this news, but that’s what I really think about when when I hear about Black people doing queer things in in history is, wow, if we have the language or if we have the time and the ability to sit down and think about it, what will we come to? Like, what will we arrive at and how would that affect how [pause] odd queerness seems today. If we had the availability of that language, you know and it how much it wouldn’t be seen like as a trend wave. But thank you for bringing this news auntie Kaya. I feel held. [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: Myles, I think my my line of thinking was very similar to yours in terms of I just like imagine what it would be if even Black people were supportive of queer folks throughout history. I mean, we could have had 200 years of these conversations you’re talking about. But I think Black conservatism, Black religion. I just think all of those politics has directed even how the Black community is talking about gender identity and sexuality and all those things. And so I don’t know. That’s where I just [?] I mean, I just imagine what the world would be, what our experiences would be, what our interactions would be with some of our family members, if there was a language and a, an established language, established creativity and imagination around identity. That’s what I don’t know, that’s where it took me. But thank you Kaya.
Kaya Henderson: Kaya, this was great. And I obviously hadn’t heard of um Swann. And it makes me think of I remember I was I was doing something with the Afro newspaper archives, and they have pictures of drag balls in the twenties. And I just had never even imagined balls that far back. To me, balls are like ’60s ’70. That’s like when they that is the beginning to me. So seeing these like people in drag, when like the makeup is less advanced, the qual– like every I just I don’t know I just feel like it emerged ’70s ’60s and to see it in the twenties and thirties I was like wow. I don’t know. There’s a lot I don’t know. It was like it was one of those like, we need to do better mainstreaming of this history so people can remember how long people, especially when it was even riskier than it is today, have been living full lives. And um it just really I was like, Wow, I wish I could talk to any of the people who were in drag in the twenties. I’m like, what? I love it, especially in places like Baltimore and D.C. and and De’Ara, to your point, in a different way, it’s like what is also true is that Black people have loved on queer people, even in private and in moments where it was unsafe and publicly unacceptable. Um. I think about my aunt had a gay friend um. Oh my god Mister Tony. I think that was who he was what’s his, ah! He was always around. We were so young, but he was like he was definitely gay. And I remember um it was Aunt Sheena’s best friend and it was like, you know, and like, nobody talked about him being gay. And sort of was just like uh the family didn’t treat him any different, but he was definitely gay in a moment where, like, being gay was not cool, but it was like I I also grew up with gay not being publicly accepted, but also seeing Black people love on other Black gay people in a way that I I worry does not get shown either. Right? Um. So that’s what this made me think of. So Kaya, thanks for bringing it here.
De’Ara Balenger: Yeah Kaya just mentioned that this was during the, this was in the 1880s. These parties were happening. The 1920s parties that popped though, Madam C.J. Walker’s daughter threw those parties, those salons are legendary. So that’s what we need to go back to.
DeRay Mckesson: 1800 is so wild. I mean, I love it.
Myles E. Johnson: It’s so dope because I’m obsessed with the Gilded Age, if just obsessed with the show, like obsessed with the era of New York Gilded Age and stuff like that. So if ov- it’s or it’s or I say that to say it’s already, um it was an ostentatious time for all. [laugh] For everybody. So like, I can only imagine adding queerness and drag performance and bending genders to to an already, you know, new moneyed art and art nouveau era of time. Um. Yeah, that’s super fascinating. [pause] Um. So today I’m going to be the bummer I’m gonna be the the depression pill that I usually wait for the other three of the cohosts to be. But I figure everybody needs to have their day. So I ran across this um article it is entitled The Suicide Method never discussed in the Black Community regarding Black Men. It’s by Patrice N. Douglas. So to [laugh] to note, to know me is to know that, like, I take depression and suicide really seriously because it’s because of um personal experiences with it and my own um uh dealings with mental health and suicide attempts. But then also kind of it was kind of my great awakening when I had those struggles because I did not know this, it it it changed the way that I interacted with so many people and habits that I was observing and things that I was seeing because I had went through this line of suffering where I’m like, Oh, I know that because I used to do that, or I understand what that what that word really means, what the sentence really means. Because I used to suffer with that too. Um. And just give it gave me a different muscle when it comes for empathy, because I just didn’t have the wisdom, because I don’t think I have I just didn’t hadn’t gone to that dark place to really um be able to to to name it. Um. So with saying that usually at this point it’s very rare that something gets said that shocks me or that makes me think differently. But this article did it and it talks about the about the um about about one of the leading causes of uh su uh of suicide uh completion in the Black community, in the Black mens community. And it’s something I’m going to give you the definition with it, too. It’s called um slow suicide, um which is defined as a prolonged period of self abusive, harmful behavior, which may result in suicide completion. Um. I was kind of stunned and it just lit me up when I read that because I was like, [snap] Oh, that’s the culture. If you can’t hear me, I’m snapping. I’m I’m I’m teaching with with my hands too. But I was like, that it just was a aha where I was like, that’s the culture. That’s what’s going on. That is the thing that I couldn’t necessarily name when I was listening to certain rap music, when I was seeing certain types of content and certain types of um images uh being created and they were toxic. But we were okay with it and but it was and, and it was confusing to me. And I was like, Oh, wow, this is that’s what we are celebrating or glorifying are these like kind of slow um suicide methods? So to be even more clear. Slow suicide is when you know something is going to um kill you or harm you and you participate in it, um either not caring about the results that might be suicide completion or secretly, maybe not so secretly, but like maybe subconsciously is a better better word, hoping for those results. And I think about how many Percocet and alcohol um uh how how many, how many of this drug or how much of this alcohol or how fast can we go with the songs we have and how many movies we have of those things. And I always just kind of uh wonder the like, when did this become the culture? Not a subculture, but like the culture. And it really hit me during COVID specifically because I was watching so many of my good meaning liberal, community oriented friends say, like, try to get people to wear a mask and try to scare people into wearing a mask and and and and entice people and and educate people into wearing masks and stuff. And I remember thinking to myself, I was like, well, you’re not going to make a suicidal culture care about life. Just all of a sudden, that’s just not how it’s going to go. And I was like, you’re you’re kind of talking to a people. You’re you’re telling you’re threatening people with things that they’re not scared of and you’re going to hit a wall if you’re saying you could die and they’re like, that’s what I wanted, you know, that’s what I wanted to happen. And I’m so glad that this article focuses on Black men because that is the culture in in in in young Black male culture right now. It is not conservatism. If it’s not incel Internet BS, it is somewhere glorifying this type of slow suicide culture of taking a little bit of taking this drug, doing this alcohol, participating in this dangerous activity. And the underlying thing is if you die, it’s okay because we don’t like it here anyway. And I thought this article was simple, but it offers something to me that just really just illuminated the way I saw people’s habits around me, the culture, and then even how I saw my own habits, even during times when I was um when I was my most suicidal. The moment the year, the two years before I was that I um that I that I attempted, I was taking the doing the riskiest drugs at the riskiest times and the riskiest amounts. And I never even connected that behavior as uh me trying to trying to do that. And I think that even when you do that to like somebody, if you’re a if you’re a patient of of if you’re a therapist patient or whatever, um even saying that to a client can change the way they think about stuff, because I know it changed me. Even though I’m I’m removed from the situation, it still changed me and be like, Oh my goodness, it didn’t just pop out of nowhere with sometimes I think that it happened. It was two months and then I was down and then I got better. Where I’m like, no, this was something that was gnawing at me for years. And then it got more pointed. But the more we kind of take this, it is the third leading, the third leading cause in um in suicide in Black men. The more we take these signs seriously, I think the more we’ll kind of know what we’re handed, what what we’re really handling we’re really getting into. So yeah, I wanted to bring this to the podcast. Um. I know it’s not the most comfortable situation to talk about or thing to talk about and then also the gaze that I wanted people to offer is not just like Black men or them out there just to kind of review, Oh, are there ways that maybe in my own anxiety or clinical depression, are there things that like maybe I even do now that, you know, trend towards slow suicide and stuff like that? Even and because we don’t talk about it, um we wouldn’t label it that way. And sometimes that harsh label helps you really address those problems when you can’t just say, oh, I’m just I’m just having fun, or we just outside. But I’m like, if you outside seven days a week and you and you on these drugs, I’m like you you about to be outside with the Lord for real. If we don’t if we don’t talk about these um habits and we’ve seen it, I’ve had so many friends this year. This this year um I’ve had four friends who OD’d. You know, and who and who did stuff where when I really look back on it, I’m like, that was suicide. I mean, it says cocaine, but that was suicide or it says alcohol, but that was suicide, you know. So, yeah, I wanted to bring that to you all. And for us to talk about it and for us to be deep.
De’Ara Balenger: Myles, thank you. So, first of all, thank you for sharing and being so vulnerable. Um. We need to be talking about this. And I think what was so chilling to me about this that thinking one of my cousins in particular who I lost a couple years ago and when he passed we all were like shocked because he’s like always in a good mood. And he always was so excited to see all of us. And he always was the life of the party at family events. But when you really start to look at his substance abuse, his depression, like all all of the signs of slow suicide, like all of it that that is in this article, like he showed some version of that or some parts of those things were very present in his life. So I think even for even as we’re paying attention [talking in background] to our loved ones, it’s so important to to know how to recognize, right. Instead of saying to someone, you know, well that person’s on drugs, they gonna be all right. No, no, no, no. Like, we actually need to like to be supportive and have thorough support structure around that love loved one. Um. So I think that’s what really really just screamed at me about this about what we’re even, what we’re on the lookout for is so far from these things in terms of somebody being on the verge of or being on a path to take their own life.
Kaya Henderson: Uh. It’s so interesting to me, Myles, first of all, thanks for bringing this. I thought it illuminated a bunch of interesting statistics about Black men and suicide. Caribbean men complete more than any other men. Like there were all these interesting facts that I didn’t know, but the naming of this slow suicide um is really, really important. I think it’s very interesting that you came at it from what’s happening with young Black men. The people who I thought of immediately were my uncles, like my great uncles, who, you know, were all sort of functional alcoholics and were literally like drinking themselves into the ground. Most of them died from cirrhosis or some um sort of alcohol related um affliction, or my uncles who you know were substance abusers and all of them, you know, it was just hard being a Black man in America. And you start doing when you start doing drugs to cope with, you know, all of the madness. And ultimately it turns into I mean, you could see it in the way like there’s no reason for you to drink that much alcohol or take as many drugs or do all of this. And to put a name to the fact that like it goes from I’m trying to cope and, you know, whatever self-medicate to I’m actually trying to get out of here. Maybe I’m not trying to get out of here, but I wouldn’t mind getting out of here. I think I for me, I could look across a number of men in my life and see sort of when that switch happened and and what the like actual completion of that was. And so I think this is an opportunity for um us to as a community to start talking about this slow suicide and to start calling people out and and thinking about I want our mental health professionals to help us think about what the right interventions are um like and and I feel like, yeah, there’s a moment to figure this thing out and not just let it happen anymore.
DeRay Mckesson: Kaya I’m with you. The first thing that comes to mind is just the power of language. There’s something about the phrase that really clicked for me. I was like, Oh, this is giving language to this thing that I’ve seen my entire life. And, you know, my father. I’m a call him the moment we get off the phone um because he has spent his his entire life working in Narcotics Anonymous and and sponsoring people. And da da and I cannot wait to share this language with him because I’m sure he sees it in his work, but just doesn’t, you know, says it in 2000 words instead of in two. So I thought this was I thought the language was brilliant. I also thought that what’s interesting about it is that the action of slow suicide takes away the stigma of suicide in the community because there’s such a big stigma in Black communities. So people like don’t want their families to have to deal with it. And da da da and, you know, all the research says that it’s underreported in Black communities because of the stigma. You know, they they died in their sleep. They da da da da like all these things that are not suicide. And but when it’s slow, when it is not a moment, it is, you know, two years of your liver eroding, then people actually get to sidestep the stigma. So I thought that was interesting. The third is the we can all name behaviors like like you Myles. The first thing that came to mind when I heard this was Percocet and or um or what’s the drink Lord why am I a old man now? That cough syrup, sizzurp, yeah lean, lean sizzurp. That’s that’s immediately what came to mind, right? And yes, so I thought that was fascinating, the fourth thing. And this is like, you know, I feel like there’s always a police carceral is when people think about fear and danger in the Black community. They are not thinking that this is the third leading cause of death amongst Black men. That’s not what they are thinking, drugs, murder. They are thinking all these wild things and community and suicide is not what people are rating as the top three. But really, if you are thinking about a healthy community, public health, public safety, you need this to be number 200 on the list and not number three. And it was another reminder to me about the I the the nuance that people bring to talking about suicide in public because of the research that says if you talk about it, more people commit more suicide. But the danger in not talking about it means that we just don’t we are not addressing it. And that’s the third leading. It’s crazy. I mean, that’s that’s big. And what. And what happens if you don’t talk about it. So I left with a lot from this.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.
De’Ara Balenger: I’m in D.C. this weekend, which I’m realizing I’m saying on the pod so my friends I didn’t reach out to are now going to text me saying why don’t you call me on [?]. Um. But I got the opportunity to go to a new development project initiative in Ward seven called Sycamore and Oak. So I grew up um in ward seven and eight and it’s really fascinating/heartbreaking what’s happening in the neighborhoods that I grew up in. So D.C. essentially looks completely different. And if you’re familiar with D.C., um you know that it’s been gentrified to the nines, I think. I wrote a paper about gentrification in law school in 2007, and at that point, a quarter million people had been displaced. So I can only imagine what that number looks like now. Um. But housing projects like Barry Farms and others have been they’re completely gone. Um. And so what’s now happened, I guess, is there’s there’s a movement around protecting some of what D.C. has left of Black culture. Um. And so this development, it’s beautiful. It’s made all out of pine. It’s huge. And part of it, it is to galvanize entrepreneurship in ward seven. And so there are a number of Black businesses there that are all amazing. Also, everybody needs to go to this place, like please visit these Black businesses. The it’s it’s on Saint Elizabeth’s campus, which is also a whole nother mind warp for me, that things are on this campus and the history of Saint Elizabeth’s, that it was um a psychiatric hospital for for many, many years, but completely insane and completely treacherous to Black people. Um. And when DC closed St. Elizabeth’s they just closed the door and let everybody out. Um, but anyhow, so this, this development is is, is in the heart of the heart of ward the heart of ward eight. And uh there are boutiques like Musuem DC and if you don’t know about museum DC. I don’t know where you’ve been but um it’s a, it’s a clothing line people would describe as urbanwear clothing line. But it’s amazing. And one of their locations there um there’s also um this woman, Amanda Stephenson. She’s the owner of Fresh Food Factory Market. So she’s bringing you know ward eight is a desert, um uh a food desert. So she’s bringing high quality groceries, ingredients, etc.. Um. You know, this the whole the village is uh supposed to create about a hundred jobs over at ward eight. And it’s also um going to really work in collaboration with uh DC’s Department of Employment Services. The other interesting thing is that they’re also going to use this space to try to bring more health um health care, health clinics, health access to people, to folks in ward eight so I bet it will be interesting to see how that unfolds. Um. But the the businesses there, Southside Creative is another business that that’s owned by Kianna Jones um and all its like art and clothes and all representing the the African diaspora and her shop, just beautiful shop. Um. But it goes on and on. So there’s incredible businesses there. The space is just it’s amazing, to be honest. Um. And it’s right next door again, if you’re familiar with DC, to where the [indistinct] you sort of can’t miss it if you’re on [?] Campus. But I just wanted to bring this to the pod because I’m just sort of going through it uh with what’s happening in D.C. and how how the hole that in my heart and how to [?] that in terms of how I can do what I can do to preserve um beautiful city. Chocolate City used to be known as chocolate city um that I grew up in. And it was interesting because when I was at the when I was at this space, I was having a conversation with some folks and folks that grew up um in Ward seven and eight as well, um and they were like, It’s just nice to have something in the Black part of D.C. and I was like wait, now DC has a Black part? The whole thing used to be Black. And I was like, that is wild. It’s absolutely wild. And the wilder thing about it is this gentrification and this development. It’s all happened under Black mayors, whether it’s Muriel’s or whether it’s Vincent Gray, um uh Adrian Fenty, Lord have mercy. And the person who really held us down for years and people can say what they want and may he rest in peace is Marion Barry. Because that is still my mayor for life. Um. And I believe Southeast would look a completely different place um if he if the takedown hadn’t happened. But, you know, it’s just it’s interesting what’s happening in D.C. um and these type of investments. Um. After all the gentrification is said and done, then it’s like, oh, now we want to preserve a little bit of D.C. and I’m like okay, I guess we’ll figure out how to be supportive to that. Um. So, yeah, just wanted to bring it to the pod because it’s really personal to me what’s happening in D.C. and I guess I’m just grappling with um now living in New York. How do I still um figure out how to be as supportive to my city as possible.
Kaya Henderson: So thanks for bringing this to the pod, De’Ara. Um. I’m excited to go over and see the development and support Black businesses. And I think for people who aren’t from D.C. or aren’t familiar with D.C., the thing to know is that D.C. is divided into eight wards and four quadrants, and most of you have only been to the northwest quadrant of D.C., never been to northeast or southeast or southwest. And all of the monuments are in north west. All of the universities are in northwest. And so you literally know a quarter of the city and the rest of the city um is very different than than the northwest. Um. In fact, wards seven and eight are the Blackest parts of the city or not always have been, but have been for the last 50 or 60 years. Um. It’s where the most children are, it’s where the most poverty is, and it has been the place of the most neglect. There’s not a sit down restaurant anywhere in um in ward seven and eight, except for Denny’s. Right. And so this has been there had been targeted neglect for that part of the city. And now there it’s where the city’s I mean, you called it a psychiatric hospital. And like people think of these as an insane asylum and all that that conjures up. Right? And so to have now this new stuff happening in a neighborhood, in a place that was so neglected is really, really important. Um. I think uh what I would say about this is it’s cool to have the business incubators and all of that stuff and like, people need jobs. So it’s going to be important for those hundred jobs to go to people in that community. Right. Because oftentimes what gentrification looks like is putting pretty things in rough neighborhoods and then bringing other people in to take care of those pretty things. And I think we as a community have to be vigilant, not be no shade to the business people or anybody who has helped make this project together. But I think we as a community have to be vigilant about holding people accountable for not just giving us shiny pretty things, but helping us get the things that actually change people’s lives and change people’s circumstances.
DeRay Mckesson: So my news was something that I was you know, I brought it because I was both surprised by it. And then I was like, Oh, maybe I’m wrong. And then I was like, Oh, well, the my correction was even weirder. So there was a story about how 27 kids have been reported missing in May of uh this year in Cleveland and how it was a big increase. Um. You know, the police department is saying actually that they received 33 reports of missing kids for all of May, which is a little broader than the New York Post, The New York Post like and Fox and some other places that posted this story about um this rash of missing kids in Cleveland and a spike of missing kids happening in Cleveland. And then I have a friend who I follow on Instagram who I’ve known who actually knew from Twitter. She also posted something about Black kids going missing on in Cleveland. She’s from Cleveland. She posted this plea from a mom being like, please help find my son da da da. So I was like, okay, I hadn’t heard anything about the missing kids in Cleveland. And then the police department, there’s an article in Axios and the headline is Cleveland Police Address Misinformation on Missing Kids. So I’m like, phew, this is another example of the Internet running away with the story and da da da. So then I look at it and their correction is not that that many kids were not missing, but that there’s just not a crisis. And I was like, well, that’s not that wasn’t the correction I was looking for. So the police department is like, you know, there are always a lot of missing kids. And uh yes, that it’s a 20% increase from last year. But out of the 1072 kids who have been reported missing, 1020 of those kids have been returned home. That’s the police department’s claim. So they are not contesting that there’s a spike in kids missing. That there were a lot of kids went missing in May, but they’re like, you know, some kids run away and it just happens. Remember, those kids don’t get Amber Alerts um and they are sort of saying, well, we found most of them. And I was just floored by this because the story of a rash of missing kids is a problem. I mean, even if you find the kids later, the idea of this many kids being missing is actually in and of itself a problem, especially when you think I mean, they’re kids. I don’t even know especially [?] whatever, whether they’re running away. The police department’s like, you know, we don’t know anything about trafficking. But I when I read misinformation, I was like, oh, they the kids weren’t missing. That’s what I thought the story was going to be. And I was like, no, no, the kids are missing. There actually is a spike in kids missing. And for the police department to be like, hey, you know, this just always happens was not a comforting response and was certainly not the response that I was expecting. So I wanted to bring it here because this is something from a number of perspective that I don’t deal with in my work. And I don’t see much information about missing kids until there’s like a tragedy that happens. But I hadn’t even and this made me want to look at spikes across the country. What is happening to kids like where are they going, you know, and how do we deal with that? So I thought I’d bring it here.
Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. I, I.
I definitely understand both both takes. I think the thing the thing about when Black children go missing or when um or just marginalized children in any community that like go missing, it’s always a hint that there’s like a person who’s a predator on the on the loose. So like the 20% would have been alarming to me. That’s what’s kind of wild to me where I’m like, sure, a lot of kids are going missing and you’re finding most of them. But it’s still from last year that there’s a 20% spike, which might mean that there’s actually somebody who’s, you know, an individual who’s making this happen. I don’t know if that’s just like my true crime brain, [laugh] or or what, but that that would just be where my mind, mind goes. And it’s just wild that for me, because I grew up in grew up in Atlanta, this obviously reminds me of the story that happened in the early nineties with Atlanta, where that man was like killing all the Black children and because because of similar reasons, because children go missing all the time it wasn’t connected that it just might one individual. And I just think that we should always be alarmed when spikes like that happen in one place because our ignorance to it can can obviously cost lives.
Kaya Henderson: I thought the exact same thing, Myles. I remember being in elementary school and wearing little green ribbons every day for the days that kids were missing during the Atlanta child murders. And people literally did not pay attention because they were missing Black kids. And this feels very similar to that. Like and I, like I want the community to be outraged. I want I want us to have done everything that we you know could do to realize that it’s not one person, that it is just a bunch of runaways. But I don’t feel like that’s the case right now. And kids are in danger and we need to do something about that.
Myles E. Johnson: You always rather overreact, right? If we’ve spent seven seven whatever million dollars down the down the down the the seadrain. [laughing]
Kaya Henderson: Exactly Myles. Exactly Myles. Exactly.
Myles E. Johnson: I’m like– [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: Over over a million dollars.
Myles E. Johnson: You know.
DeRay Mckesson: What did you all think about the misinformation? Ah. When I saw misinformation, I was like, oh, they must say the kids got found. And I was like, Oh, no.
Myles E. Johnson: It’s just. And I guess you would know about this more than I would DeRay, but it just seems like police have gotten even more even on a local level, like have gotten even more like savvy on on Internet narratives because it felt so PR and it felt so it felt so savvy.
Kaya Henderson: Yeah spin. Pure spin.
Myles E. Johnson: Yeah.
Kaya Henderson: Pure spin.
Myles E. Johnson: It felt so savvy and the fact that it was um the fact that it was made into an article. And that means that the police have some type of relationship with some, with with with a media outlet, you know what I mean? And and the it just felt very P– It felt. Yeah. Just PR ready, which is not how you want police to sound. [laughing]
De’Ara Balenger: You know, I think this is building on what Kaya said in terms of just activating the community around it it just does seem like something that the administration should [?] pick up or something that the Black community as a collective should be pushing the administration to address, just like we’re you know working to address maternal health care for Black women. I think this missing children thing is a crisis and and and should be getting national attention and federal funding resources. Like. I don’t I wouldn’t what I wouldn’t want to do, Myles to your point is leave it to local governments, particularly in communities where local governments have oppressed, suppressed those Black communities for years, for years. In in Cleveland. Lord have mercy.
Kaya Henderson: I mean De’Ara, what you say makes me think of the idea that and we’ve talked about this on the podcast before, like kids are not just missing from families. Kids are missing from schools in droves. New York City lost 300,000 kids during the pandemic. They literally don’t know where these kids are. We did this article and it seems like and this has tremendous implications for the funding of education across the country. Los Angeles can’t find 40% of its kids, all of these staggering numbers. And so why isn’t there a federal task force that is trying to figure out where are the children? Because they didn’t all get on a rocket and go to Mars looking for a new experience? Right. They are here somewhere and we got to find these kids.
De’Ara Balenger: Boom. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles E. Johnson. [music break]