Raquel Willis on Risk and Reward | Crooked Media
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February 27, 2024
Pod Save The People
Raquel Willis on Risk and Reward

In This Episode

Far right nazism, the conservative sneaker, national guard on high school grounds, and more election frenzy. Myles  interviews Raquel Willis about her new book The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation.



Trump Fraud Trial Penalty Will Exceed $450 Million

How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Became One of Joe Biden’s Most Valuable Boosters

Fox News Star: Black People Will Vote for Trump Because ‘They Love Sneakers’

Nazis mingle openly at CPAC, spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories and finding allies

Unruly high school asks Massachusetts National Guard to restore order

U.S. Serviceman Dies After Setting Self on Fire Outside Israeli Embassy to Protest War in Gaza

Hydeia Broadbent, young activist for HIV/AIDS awareness, dies at 39


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DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode it’s me, De’Ara, Myles, and Kaya talking about the news from the past two weeks that you might have missed with regard to race and justice and equity that you should have heard about. And then Myles sits down and does an interview with award winning activist and journalist Raquel Willis about her new book, The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation. Here we go. 




De’Ara Balenger: Family, welcome. Welcome welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I’m 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 and TikTok at @pharaohrapture 


Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter at @HendersonKaya. 


DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay at @deray on Twitter. 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, I don’t know if y’all or y’all relatives have gone out to get you a pair of Donald Trump sneakers, but evidently. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh gosh. 


De’Ara Balenger: Us Blacks really like tennis shoes. [laughter] So much so that we’re going to go out and get them and wear them to the polls to vote for Donald Trump. This is so ridiculous. I don’t even know where to start. I mean, I think Myles had it right in our group chat when he was like, when they when they were like, you need basically put a hard ER on this. So, I mean, that’s what it’s feeling like. That’s what it’s giving. I think the one thing that folks did. You know, because sometimes I’ll like tune into Fox News just to see what they talk about. And one thing that they so conveniently brushed over was he was getting booed a little bit too at this whatever this grand unveiling of the sneaker was. 


Kaya Henderson: At a sneaker conference. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. So it’s just a wild thing, but super curious what what y’all are thinking about this, what it was giving, what your social circles are talking about around this?


Myles E. Johnson: I think I’ve advanced what I said in the group chat to put to say, [laughter] Trump just put the hard ER in sneaker. [laughter] As you were saying [laughter] that that was that that was more clever. So I got some chance to work that out in the last couple of days. I think the thing that was most wild about listening to, I don’t know the pundits name, but listening to him speak about, oh, and Black people love sneakers and it’s about the culture and stuff is that it’s it’s it’s something when a race of people think that you’re a savage or violent or criminal. It’s something else when those race of people think that you’re dumb, it’s something else when those race of people think that you’re easy manipulated, that you’re shallow, that you are to– you’re totally swayed by spray painted uh gold sneakers. That is a little bit different. I’m actually used to a certain type of criminality being projected on me, but oh, you think I’m this simple? That you could spray paint a sneaker and I’m going to go with it and yeah, that, that that’s my perspective of it is that, oh not only not only are you all white supremacists, but y’all think that we’re simple. Like, I don’t know that that was the most insulting part about it. First of all, I’m a I’m a tabby fan myself, so I’ve moved on to a loafer, a tabby. And also it’s really stereotyping a very specific section of Black people too. And I think that was like that those Black people who also get pathologized by other Black people. So any other every six months like a cycle Twitter might talk about how come you got Jordans, but you ain’t got a passport. And they’ll start pathologizing Black people. Um a certain, section of Black people. And I think those are also the Black people who are most harmed by the policies by with Trump. So, yeah, it’s just it’s just a super, ugh evil sticky situation. 


DeRay Mckesson: You know, what I do think is interesting is um, to your point De’Ara about the fact that people were booing Trump at sneaker con. There was actually a really big backlash to Trump’s performance at Sneaker Con by Sneakerheads. They were like, y’all this place is about sneakers. We ain’t never had candidates show up. Like, why is Trump doing this? Why are you platforming this? Da da da. The second thing I’ll say is um, with regard to people pushing back and booing Trump, it is really interesting around, about the way the media participates in mythologizing Trump in a good way. So The New York Times ran a full story on a guy who paid $9,000 for a pair of those sneakers, a full story, not just a recap of the sneakers, but a profile of a guy who paid $9,000. And you’re like, I don’t, you know, there are a lot of things for the newspaper record to cover. I don’t really know if a like if a life story of a guy who paid $9,000 at an auction for Trump Tennis shoes is like a feature story. But it does participate in this idea because you read it and you it sort of participates in that idea of something special about these shoes and da da and you’re like, no, this guy just was a Trump person who had a lot of disposable cash. The third thing I think is–


Myles E. Johnson: Well who was– [pause] What was the color of the Trump guy? Not that it matters. 


DeRay Mckesson: He was Russian. 


Myles E. Johnson: Thank God. Oh my God. [laughter] Not that it matters. But thank God he wasn’t Black. [laughing]


Kaya Henderson: That adds– 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: A whole another layer to the story. But we won’t go there.


DeRay Mckesson: He’s Russian. His name is Roman Sharf. Uh. But the third thing that sort of, you know, it’s almost like I set you up for that, Myles, is that Black people love a good sneaker. You know, like, there’s a deep history of us making these sneakers cool. You know, I think about Baltimore and the Air Force ones. I think about some places and the Reebok’s. The K-Swiss like, you know, deep history. 


Kaya Henderson: K-Swiss mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: And when I think about the hype-ies and I say this as somebody who have I have hundreds of tennis shoes is that the white people are buying, they are the people sort of owning the resale market. They just are. They are the people buying 700 pairs of a shoe and reselling it. They are the people spending 5K 6K, black people are not like, first of all, a lot of Black people don’t have disposable income to do that. But white people are the people shelling out a ton of money for these shoes in the resale market. It just is true. So much so that when you think about the scandals and reselling, it is white people. It was like that, the son of one of the Nike execs, you know what I mean? So what’s really annoying about this story, because the story now is the shoe is sold out. You know, he had 1000 shoes, they all sold out. And you’re like, I don’t know if Black people did that, you know, like I’m– 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will bet my dollar.


Kaya Henderson: You do know. You do know. And we did not. We didn’t. 


DeRay Mckesson: We did not do that. But because of the pathologizing around Black people and shoes, the narrative is like, if they, so and you’re like, no. Like, oh [?] y’all leave us alone. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Kaya Henderson: Part of what’s interesting to me about this is that, like, he is he is laying a narrative around Black people with the sneakers. The sneakers came out the day after he was convicted of or ordered to pay, you know, $355 million as part of his civil fraud case. Shout out to Tish flippin James. Anyway, um so so he he has said also this week. Oh um, Black people, you know, are connecting with me because they see me as being prosecuted, persecuted by the criminal justice system. And they can relate to that. So there’s this, you know, we’re compadres because we’re both done wrong by the criminal justice system. I got these sneakers. I think we’re going to see increasing pandering or signaling to the Black community from Trump. And I think that that is one dangerous. But this sneaker thing is just stupid. Like it’s not even a good sneaker. We’ll make we’ll make a sneaker popular if it’s a good sneaker. This is not a good sneaker. Anyway, um I I just think this is it it’s so bananas. And if you go to the website, not only, he’s selling those sneakers, he also has two other sneakers and perfume and all kinds of other stuff that is just ridiculous. I don’t think that we’ve ever had a candidate who has tried to market himself in this particular way, but, you know, his base actually responds to this stuff, and they put money in his pocket and, you know, I I yeah, it’s this is fascinating to watch. 


DeRay Mckesson: There was a um NBA player who you probably never, I didn’t hear about him, Jonathan Isaac, but he tweeted, you know I think I might wear these shoes on the court. And everybody was like, sir let it go. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. Yeah.


Kaya Henderson: That’s but that’s why that look, that’s why he did it. Because we never heard of him. And now we’re talking about him. [laughter]


Myles E. Johnson: Right. [laughter] And I do know I mean, I know that we have some people who are um, who are, you know, hooked up with with Gucci on this very call. [laughter] 


DeRay Mckesson: Wow. 


Myles E. Johnson: And I know that Gucci has a gold sneaker because my own inner in um materialistic Negro inside of me was contemplating what what I, would I buy that sneaker when it drops. That Gucci sneaker. So is there not any call that we can make? I know, I know that it’s very hard in fashion. I know this because I know fashion nova and so many other places steal designs [laughter], steal designs regularly without any, any type of uh legal action. But can Gucci at least can somebody make a call and say, do y’all want to sue, or do we want to maybe make a Biden-Harris sneaker that is uh–


Kaya Henderson: Can we can we not make a Biden-Harris sneaker. That’d be colorful.


Myles E. Johnson: No, because because Joe needs to let us know that he be walking. That he that that’s how he’s that’s how he stays cognitive and that’s a sneaker I want whatever got Joe ticking and running the nation is the sneaker I want because he runs– 


Kaya Henderson: That’s how he stays–


Myles E. Johnson: Because he’s running the nation. 


Kaya Henderson: –cognitive. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: Said my friend.


Myles E. Johnson: Cardiovascular, brain. Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: Ooh. Mmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: You’re jumping in?


De’Ara Balenger: Um. Well, you know, still on the I mean, I don’t want to spend more time talking about Donald Trump, but just quickly, he didn win the South Carolina primary. Um. What I’m curious about and he like won it completely outright, like, you know, Nikki Haley in her own state did not fare well.


Kaya Henderson: Nikki Nikki Nikki. Ugh. 


De’Ara Balenger: Um. But what I’m curious to find out is actually how moderates are feeling in South Carolina. Um. Which I want to do some digging on because I, it could be similar to the case in Iowa where Trump didn’t do well with, you know, college educated white folks, with moderate leaning white folks. And so I want to see if that were also true in South Carolina. I can’t verify that for y’all just yet. Um. But that, that that is what happened in South Carolina. 


Myles E. Johnson: My biggest bet, and this is just like, you know, I am I am no lawyer, and I am no, uh yeah. So I’m just saying my biggest bet when it comes to Trump and when it comes to Biden-Harris is that the biggest obstacle is not going to be about Trump winning. It’s going to be about Biden Harris not exciting those moderate voters. I think the numbness that’s like happening that I’m seeing like people go through is the biggest um battlefield when it comes to it. But I think that a lot of I think as many Americans that are going, I think if you’re not for Trump right now, you’re not for Trump. Like if and if you are for Trump right now, there’s no convincing you otherwise. I think the biggest thing when it comes to the voting population is going to be getting people really excited to get to the polls for Biden. Does that is that makes sense? Does it how’s that sound to y’all? 


Kaya Henderson: Man, I think I think that’s reasonable. I think that’s right. Because the I mean, um uh Rashida Tlaib, I think, is telling people in her state to vote uncommitted, right. Like, and so they’re like the problem with Biden Harris is going to be vote or stay home and opt out. And so I think you’re right about their ability to animate. We’ve talked a lot on in this conversation about their failure to convey the good things that are happening and the outcomes that they’re producing. Um. I mean, for me, the South Carolina thing was just first of all, I mean, shameful Nikki Haley, like you’ve been the governor of South Carolina twice, right? And twice and those people were like, yeah, no thanks. I don’t want that. That signals a lot that that says a lot to me, right? Your own people. Your people. Um. And and I think her whole campaign now is far more interesting to me than it was a couple weeks ago, because she is betting that this dude is going to get convicted or something, that he is going to have to drop out of the race, and she’s going to be the only Republican left standing. And I think this like this is now very interesting for me to watch. The Koch brothers just took their money away from her campaign. But there are still lots of people, moderate Republicans who are really supporting her. And if she can stand and it does happen that he gets knocked out, it will be a very different presidential race, right? Um. She will animate women in different ways. All of these like, you know, flubs and problems that she’s created so far are going to go away. She will be a moderate, reasonable Republican, and we will have a very different race. And so, you know, nine months is a long time and lots of things can happen. Um. But I, I thought the South Carolina thing was interesting because any place else, if a former twice former governor got, you know, trounced in their own state, they’d just be gone. And that is not exactly, she still got 40% of the vote, I think. Um. And so this is like we got a little scrap going on. 


Myles E. Johnson: Bet she believes in misogyny now. 


DeRay Mckesson: I will say the thing that is really interesting to me about Nikki Haley is not only did she lose, but that she has done a phenomenal job of wiggling out of a whole host of policy points that really make no sense, and they’re not even deep. And I don’t know, you know, I think I might have long term things about [?] and some other stuff. But I think about something I wish the campaign would put together, Biden campaign or some PAC or somebody would be like a just a fact kit for people who interview her because, like, I even think about like her saying that she’s white. And then you put a picture of her family up and you’re like, why’d you check off white? Like, you know, there’s some basic things, so I think about her interview on The Breakfast Club and say what you will about The Breakfast Club? You know, they have a big audience. And she just wiggled out of every, like, every single thing that you’re like. There really is not a good answer for this. And it’s like a consequence of what happens when you don’t have reporters doing these interviews. But like, is there a way to build the capacity for people who do? Because, you know, I think you’re right, Kaya. Women will support her and all this other stuff but her policy positions are like very anti-woman. They are very misogynistic. They are very but like, how do we help people understand that better? 


Kaya Henderson: But we but we live in a time where people are not voting for policy anything. People are voting for cult of personality. Like, that’s the problem. I mean, Trump’s policies are ridiculous. Are there policies? Is there a platform? No, no, no, we don’t even know what his policies are. People are not voting for substantive policy things or whether or not, you know, that person’s values reflect your like that’s out the window. So she can wriggle out. She can say whatever. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. But I wish it wasn’t out the window. And I think. And I think that even though it is out the window, I guess. Can we put it back in the window, meaning–


Kaya Henderson: Talk to, talk to your friends– 


Myles E. Johnson: –can can Biden–


Kaya Henderson: –in the Republican Party about why they [?]–


Myles E. Johnson: But I think I think that party I think any party that if you go extreme enough in it you become a Nazi has lost its political and moral depth. So, like I’m so my opinion is just like I think that Democrats have enough space to make that a thing again. I think that there has not been enough attention to that. But making that a thing, but making that a thing again, like literally just hashtag what what– 


Kaya Henderson: I disagree. 


Myles E. Johnson: –he, what has Biden done? And then and then just– [banter]


Kaya Henderson: I disagree, I disagree completely. 


Myles E. Johnson: — [?] what Biden’s done. 


Kaya Henderson: I feel like the Democrats have always taken the moral high ground, have always stood on policy, like have always been the party of logic and reason and values and alignment. And the Republicans showed us what happens when you throw that out and just go for raw power. And they’ve won. And so I think I and so one, like we I think the Democrats are struggling to even get ourselves together on the way we usually get down because we’re looking over here and we’re like, this is not like this moral high ground, this policy stuff, this alignment, this is what’s good and right for people is not actually working the way the you know, throw it all to hell is working on the other side. And I think that’s part of the problem. Like, you know, people people want to hear what they want to hear. We are like it is to me it is it’s not an indictment of the party. It’s an indictment of people and where people are in in their lives, I guess, in that they are willing to, you know, I like something so many I I I saw this chart on, I don’t know, something this weekend which said like 60 something percent of the people who voted in South Carolina exit polls and it might not be the exact number, but something like that thought that Trump being convicted would not disqualify him for the presidency. What? 


De’Ara Balenger: Mm hmm. 


Kaya Henderson: What? Like who are, this is not a Democratic or Republican Party thing. This is who are we as a people that we are willing to allow a convicted felon to lead the United States? Like what? 


Myles E. Johnson: I don’t disagree, but I still think that people are supporting Trump because of policies. I think that when you look at what’s happening with Trump, as far as um the evangelical church, I think the reason why they’re doing this with Trump, the reason why they’re propping him up, are because of these policies that are going to keep it, keep it moving. And I think that, yes, to to us, it looks like oh it’s just about blindly supporting Trump, but it’s blindly supporting Trump because Trump was ordained by Father God in the sky to let these certain types of policies stay advanced so we can stay a Christian state. So just like um uh let’s say the the the student loan debt activates certain people on the left and a lot of people who will be Democrats. I think there are a lot more situations, a lot more policies that will activate us, too. So I think that and too other people who are not involved in left politics or who don’t care about the left or politics in general will be like, oh, they’re just for Biden, or they’re just for Bernie Sanders. But I don’t think that that’s what it would be. It would be about these policies activating people. But um and I think the same thing–


De’Ara Balenger: I think y’all are saying the the same thing and it’s like it is it is an intertwined thing. This weekend I was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for my niece’s field hockey tournament. We were staying at the Marriott Penn Square in Lancaster. There was a gun show happening at that hotel because it is adjoined to the Lancaster Convention Center. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh, you said you were on the field. 


De’Ara Balenger: I was on the front line okay? 


Myles E. Johnson: Like [laugh]. 


De’Ara Balenger: Over this weekend. 


DeRay Mckesson: Not the front line. 


De’Ara Balenger: And it is, it is it is something to behold because it is these these folks want their guns. But there is a culture to to Kaya’s point around, for example, one of the one of the moms was saying how there was a party happening next door with the gun folks, and she called security to say, can you please tell them, you know, I have a sleeping child here that has a game in the morning da da da da. I guess the the gun folks figured out who made the phone call and then bang, bang, bang on this woman’s door, and she’s got two sleeping kids in the room with her, she’s terrified. She knows there’s a gun show happening. So I say that as a very small example. That probably doesn’t get me to generalization, obviously, but it is something that’s going on with the policy around wanting to hold onto this gun. And then for as a culture as as as a as an identity this this is also what that means to me. Right? And I think that goes I you know, I think you all are saying the same thing because it ends up defining a people and both of those things end up defining a people, and then they and then it becomes this sort of worshipping, cult like fanaticism around the things and the and but how to also act upon the things it it is. 


Myles E. Johnson: Exactly. I would say behind every cult of personality– 


De’Ara Balenger: Also, who’s on the board of The Marriott? Letting them do that there. That’s the other thing. 


Myles E. Johnson: I would say behind every cult of personality we see, there’s probably a cult of policy. And I think that like not balancing your view of that is to me, it’s kind of like losing a losing the plot a little bit. Um. And, and and they did it with everybody. They would do it with anybody. I think part of what makes Trump a sexy candidate to do that with is because he is so depraved and and even even God could work through him. That is a huge part of his advancement in that party. 


Kaya Henderson: I I I would say it’s a chicken and an egg situation. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. Yeah.


Kaya Henderson: Is Trump’s policies animating the people or is are Trump’s policies, again I would argue that there are no policies. But are, is this wave reflecting what people want? That’s how he won in 2016. They listened to what middle America wanted and wasn’t getting from the liberal Democratic establishment. And then they reflected those values in their campaigns and their narratives. And so I like, you know, maybe I would have a little bit more respect for Trump if I thought that he had this, you know, policy or he and his people have this policy platform they’re pushing, I I think he is reflecting what the people want. But neither here nor there it’s problematic. Either way it goes, chicken or egg. And–


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Kaya Henderson: We’re seeing it play out in Alabama. 


Myles E. Johnson: [?] I agree with everything you said, and I think that now we are essentially saying the same thing because I was just trying to when you were saying the cult of personality and Trump and they’ll do anything for Trump, I’m like, well, let’s not forget that Trump adopted and absorbed these policies. And there’s ways for the left to adopt and absorb and make a big deal about certain policies too, to animate the moderates and and the people on the left, too. That’s the only thing that I was um expressing. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. The only thing I’ll add is that I do think one of the strategic things that is different is that the right lies, like it’s not just a matter of like good storytelling and strategy. They literally just lie to people, and you’re like that is that is not necessarily the left, like it is hard to sometimes it is hard to counter that some of, some of that stuff because people are believing things and you’re just like, that just isn’t true. Or like I think about IVF is a really good example, is that you will get, you know, the Alabama Supreme Court comes out and says that IVF might be wrapped up in or not might be they said that IVF is a child. And you get these people who supported that in the past who have voted for things that support that. And on TV they’re like, I’ve never supported that. And you’re like, that just is a lie. That is just untrue. 


Myles E. Johnson: Well, the left lies too so. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. 




Myles E. Johnson: My news this week is about, well, I’m just going to read. I’m just going to read the um, the um article. This is fresh, I woke up to this news. We record on Mondays, so you know, bear with me y’all. Um an active duty member of the US Air Force has died after he set himself on fire outside the Israel Embassy in Washington, DC, on Sunday in apparent protest of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, which he described as a genocide. The Metropolitan Police Department identified the deceased demonstrator in a statement to Time on Monday as a 25 year old Aaron Bushnell of San Antonio, Texas. Um. Obviously this news is to me important for lots of reasons, not just because it just happened, but I think every now and then it’s interesting how my algorithm showed me this. So I saw this uh serviceman on fire, and then underneath it, the next tweet was a DJ Khalid tweet where two dark skinned Black men were carrying DJ Khalid because DJ Khalid didn’t want to get his Jordans dirty. Um. And those those that was right under, right underneath each other. So I say that to say is, sometimes in this world, we can, [stuttering] we can forget what this war is doing to people, um what this war means to us and our generation. And it’s also interesting because, well, I wasn’t there. I’m a young spring chicken, but from what I can tell, from what I’ve read and what I’ve studied about Vietnam, there was this kind of focus in and it was really hard to distract people. I was watching this documentary about Cabaret, and how one of the reasons why Cabaret got greenlit was simply because nobody was going to see those glossy MGM musicals when there was a war going on. And now we’re in this weird moment where we’ll see people selling things. We’ll get very excited about these cultural touchstone moments about dancing and about, you know, I don’t I don’t want to. I don’t want to litigate against any individual pop star or business, but then will be interrupted by something like this that really reminds us that people have very strong feelings about this. People have very strong point of views about this, and even those people involved in it are dealing with this, this tremendous amount of guilt and in conflict with their nation. And this is one of those defining situations where, unfortunately, this is an extreme example of this. But this is what’s happening in so many people’s heads who are not part of service, who are a part of service, who believed in our nation and now are seeing this. And like what? Where are my tax dollars going? Going to, this slow awakening for lack of better words that’s happening in so many people is is real. And I think this story highlights that for me. Um. Of course, I think about also it’s it’s weird. And I think that’s one of the reasons, besides the obvious, that I wanted to bring this here because my mind goes two ways. I think about mental health struggles. I think about being so young, I think about is is is this is it contextualizing this in a mental health struggle way a way to go? But also there’s a precedence for people protesting like this. There’s a precedent for people putting their bodies on the line when they think something is really morally wrong and and and setting themself ablaze, or or starving themselves and dying and and doing a lot of different things like that. So I don’t necessarily know what the right answer is, but it felt right to bring it to you all so we can talk it out and see where everybody else’s heads are at when it comes to this subject matter. Regardless, I think that this is going to be one of those moments in our history where we’ll see a lot of people have shifted to either deeper politics, deeper radicalization, or deeper apathy y’all, like that’s how I really see it, because the the government is is helping fund this this this genocide on our on our watch. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. I mean, this is the thing that I’m just trying to process and work out in my mind. And I think I’ve I’ve been trying to do that. Well, I put my daddy to rest on October 6th, and then October 7th happened. So I think I am just in a place of trying to, like, find profound and greater understanding and that many things can be true at once. Right. And I think losing my dad has helped me, not help me, it has pushed me for my own mental health to think about things as complex and as nuanced and as big as I can. And I think what’s happening in our culture is that we think of things in two ways. That’s all you get. Good or bad. Good or evil. Right or wrong. And so and I think with Aaron and this is just so tragic and just so unbelievably, profoundly sad. Is that, Myles, everything that you’re saying is I think is is correct around being, being eternally and deeply fed up, being feeling hopeless, feeling like the only thing that you can do is put your body on the line. And I think for, depending on who you are in this country I think some of us are walking around every single day putting our bodies on the line, and I think there are others who as form of protest or otherwise do what Aaron has done. And I think um, I think that his fed up ness can be a truth, and a struggle with mental health can also be a truth. Um. But it is, how do we, how do we honor this young man now? And what do we what do we do with this? And how do we hold this in a way that gets us, gets us out of looking at it at two different ways. You know what I’m saying? And I think that’s that’s what I’m. That’s what I, that’s that’s just the path that I’m on. Um. And and and encouraging others, others to do the same because there’s no and the fact of the matter is, you know, there are piece there’s a there’s a conversation that’s going to happen in Paris, I think this week or next around um a ceasefire um in advance of Ramadan. Ramadan is in two weeks. So trying to figure out how this cease fire happens with um the fighting stopping, hostages, Israeli hostages going, you know getting released. Palestinian prisoners getting released. So those conversations are happening. But I think the other thing is that those conversations just seem so far away and seem so inaccessible and seem so far from all of the protest, struggle, thinking, feeling that’s happening all over the world. Right? Um. And do people know about that? And then there’s, you know, and for some, for lots of reasons, there can’t be transparency around that process. But there also needs to be a communication around what what is happening so that people can um feel like they are taking care of of humanity. Um. So that’s all I got. That’s all I know, as my dad would say. 


Kaya Henderson: I had two thoughts around this. The first um is is really about how this act of setting yourself on fire was, is intentionally attention grabbing in a particular way. And I feel like if I think about, like, my social media feed and how much we had been hearing about Israel and Gaza, um over the last month or so, the media has really stopped covering it. I feel like maybe it’s my algorithm or whatever, but I just see less and less conversation and engagement about the war. And it’s a it feels a little bit like it is drifting out of our consciousness. Um. Except in these, like, largely political ways where we read about, you know, people negotiating and that kind of thing. But I felt like we were getting a steady diet of the frontline, how this was affecting individual people and what this, this um self-immolation, I learned a new word, um what it means to set yourself on fire does is it brings attention back to this in a way that I think is really important, that reminds us that this is not just about governments and negotiations and ceasefires and whatnot. This is about individual people who are deeply affected every single day by this, including members of our military, who have to carry out um orders that they don’t always agree with. Um. And it just, I don’t know, it it reset for me the priority around this. Um. And I hope that it resets the priority around this for other people. It’s so easy to just let this become part of the daily humdrum of news. And I think this young man wanted to remind us that this is an issue that is, you know, it is still happening. There are still people being affected by it. And I can’t remember what my second point was. So I will just close with that. 


DeRay Mckesson: The two things I want to add, one is uh sort of piggybacking off what you said, Kaya, about the media coverage. What has been interesting about this act of self-immolation is that so many of the original reports refused to identify this as a form of protest. So the Huffington Post first comment, or first article about it said, and I quote, “officials did not say whether the self-immolation was a form of protest.” And that is important because in the video, so there’s a video of this that went viral on Twitter of the act of self-immolation. He says, I’m about to commit an extreme form of protest, like he says it. 


DeRay Mckesson: Mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: So for the media to just refuse to say that is really interesting. And what I didn’t know in preparing for this conversation was that the Arab Spring was actually precipitated by self-immolation. 


De’Ara Balenger: Mmm hmm. That’s right. That’s right DeRay.


Kaya Henderson:  Mm hmm.


DeRay Mckesson: Had no clue. Um. And, you know, I think about this from us standing in the street in 2014, there is something really powerful about seeing people who are everyday people stand up. That really does inspire a whole set of people to just do different things, right? 


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: Maybe not all of them exactly, but it does bring a sense of urgency and a sense of like what you’re willing to put on the line that um that is different. And I was struck by him being so young. I don’t, you know, he’s 25. I don’t know– 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: –why in my mind he was older [?] but it’s like you, you did this and had a full life ahead of you and were like, you know, this is unacceptable what’s happening um in Gaza. So. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I remember during the Arab Spring, too, I was in Yemen. In 2011, I went right after. Um. And there were so many photos of young protesters that had died. They were everywhere. Everywhere. Um. And I think what still sits with me is like, that was in 2011. And Yemen has been having wars on and off currently and one right now, since then. And we’re in 2024. So I think it’s also just like a larger, you know, things are a mess in many, many, many, many places. And how can we start to sensitize ourselves so that we are holding space and active? It in a way, culturally that allows allows us to be you know what’s happening in Haiti right now. And I’m not trying to I’m not trying to say what’s happening in Palestine isn’t an important thing because it it obviously it is, but it is also how can we just be more global as Americans? I think maybe that’s what I’m getting at is like, I feel like we’re just, you know, you go to even when you go to Europe, the BBC is telling you what’s happening and they’re not perfect, but in other parts of the world we just don’t even we have no idea. 


Myles E. Johnson: And I think that’s designed De’Ara, because I think the more you I mean, this is a service man, you know, like this was somebody who– 


De’Ara Balenger: Who spent I’m telling you, yup. 


Myles E. Johnson: –who was inside. So I think that the more that you’re not distracted by um a football game or a pop star or a new business or or or fast food or culture wars and and stuff like that, the more that you’re not distracted by that, you see that the United States is is complicit with a lot of the destruction and war and unfairness that’s happening globally. So I think that us being insular and narcissistic is a part of the plan. It has to be, you know, and I think that when you’re more enlightened–


De’Ara Balenger: I think and I think. 


Myles E. Johnson: Mm hmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. You’re right. And I, because here’s here’s what doing work for the United States State Department did for me. And I worked in Liberia, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Yemen, Kenya. Bunch of, a whole and a whole host of a, Macedonia, a whole host of places. It helped me to understand the magnitude and power and efficiency of the United States government. And what it did was make me a patriot for the United States of America. And I can understand that this is a place that oppresses me. I can understand what my history is, what my ancestors went through. But I also can understand if this thing is motored correctly. And what you and Kaya were talking about earlier with moral fortitude and with policy. The the change that can happen for generations to come, obviously is completely profound. So I think. 


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. 


De’Ara Balenger: I think that’s the other thing, right? It’s like all these, United States is doing crazy things and [?] has been doing and historically, we talk about the migrant crisis. That has a lot to do with interventions by the United States government. But we also can fix that. We also can fix what’s happening at the border. Like we actually have the resource. Like that’s what that’s what our National Guard is organized to do. That’s what our army is organized to do. Like go into places, engineer things and fix them. So I’ll get off of my, my grandstand. 


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. 


De’Ara Balenger: But I think that that’s. [clap] 


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. 


De’Ara Balenger: Drives me crazy. 


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. 


De’Ara Balenger: Drives me crazy.


Kaya Henderson: In my news this week, the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC happened last week. [laughter]. 


De’Ara Balenger: We just, this is really, this episode. Man oh man. 


Myles E. Johnson: Left right left right left right. Boom boom. [laughter]


Kaya Henderson: And um, I saw a piece that talked about the fact that the Nazis had a very friendly reception at the CPAC conference this year, which is not usually how CPAC rolls. In fact, previously CPAC would eject the extreme Nazis um and white supremacists. But not this year, friends. Not this year. This year um they were out and about. They had badges. They were official. They were in the building. They were discussing race science. They were discussing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They were using openly using the N-word. And what does CPAC do? [?]. Um. In fact, like, they were taking pictures of themselves legitimately, uh with their official badges and being their full Nazi selves, and nobody did anything about it. Again, in stark contrast to previous years where they used to get put out, now they are welcomed at the CPAC conference. In addition to the Nazis, some of you may have seen the viral video of Jack Posobiec, who is a conservative personality who was at CPAC calling for an end to democracy and the establishment of a theocracy or a Christian focused government. That was a highlight of the conference this year. Um. And, you know, I and and when they asked the CPAC organizers for comment, of course they were silent. So for me, this comes straight out of Auntie Maya’s when people show you who they are, believe them. Don’t tell me that the conservative people are not racist. Don’t tell me that they’re not anti-Semitic. Don’t tell me. Look, I know who you are by the company that you keep. So you welcome the Nazis. You welcome the use of the N-word, you welcome race science and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and the theocracy and friends, that’s who you about to vote for when you vote for these people, that’s all. 


Myles E. Johnson: And ooh child. Just connecting what um what we were just talking about what De’ara was just saying to this story, I think that’s one of the, that’s one of the reasons that we have to kind of continuously bring up what’s going on and and and be real and be, real about it. And [sigh] because the gaslighting happens. And so how about this? I grew up hearing that the Conservative Party um were conservative, mainly about money and some and some very particular Christian ideas that I didn’t agree with. But I, but I was able to understand. As I got older, I saw that if you go right enough, you will end up a Nazi. To me, that seems like there is a wound and a sickness in the very system we’re trying to get people to vote for. If I can’t lose a Democratic vote or a Democratic election and it not be infested with Nazism that see, that seems weird to me. That seems weird to me. And if we have a whole generation of 25 year olds and 21 year olds, and 18 year olds being awakened to that, that that that’s scary to me. And um, it makes me think of what’s the James Baldwin quote? Um. I love America more than any other country in the world. And exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to critique her perpetually. Like that, to me, is like what’s like a big a big thing. Like, I don’t hate America. I don’t hate this nation. I really believe in the ideas around it, in the, in the, and and what and what it stands for and what it can be. But this that’s just ridiculous. That’s ridiculous. It’s it’s obviously it’s our news, but also it’s just wild that that is the state of American politics right now, that if you go conservative enough we’re talking Nazism. It’s so strange. The last thing I’ll say, too, because I’ve been watching the new look that’s on Apple TV, which is about um Chanel, Christian Dior and um Balenciaga during um uh uh the Nazi occupation in Europe. And so it talks about all these different fashion icons responses to that. And it’s really, and it’s really, really good. Um. I think the normalcy part is is is what gets me. I think the fact that it’s these lush, lavish, beautiful, gilded, um Dior and Chanel designed parties with champagne and caviar and and 1swastikas in the background. And I still see this as our swastikas in the background. Like this this this just can’t be the normal. Um. And and it can’t just be something that we bring up and say, isn’t this weird that what the right is doing? This is kind of deciding the the the American destiny. These these things right here are deciding the the the destiny of America, we have to be outraged about them. Sorry y’all, [laugh] I’m that pissed me off. 


DeRay Mckesson: Um. The only thing I’ll say is that I do think there was a there was a time where uh calling something racist actually meant a lot more. And I think that the phrase just doesn’t do the work that it did before. So when I think about the Nazis, I think there are a lot of people who just don’t wanna hear the like that’s racist. Like they it just they just respond less to it. To the question for me becomes, how do we help people understand the texture to that, and I will, you know, I said it here on the pod a while ago. But I think poverty’s really interesting. So uh the way we talk about it, like I’ve been talking to people, as you know, Louisiana and Texas now have pulled out of the summer food stamp program. And when I ask people, how much money do you think people got in food stamps per kid per month, they say things like $200, $250 and it’s $40. The summer food stamp program is $40 a kid per month. And when I tell people that they’re like, this is crazy da da da da, they like get it, but that those things are like the texture of what racism looks like, or disadvantage or disinvestment. And da da da, I think the word itself means less. So when I think about this Kaya, I didn’t know this until you brought it up. I I didn’t see this story. I heard nobody talking about it. It wasn’t a clip did not go viral. I literally still haven’t seen on social media since you like, if you hadn’t brought it, I wouldn’t have known. And I think about like how what I would have to do to like, help my family or friends be like, oh, this is sort of wild. I’d have to show them the texture of why this matters, because the reality is Trump sort of made sort of casual racism mainstream. Like it just you see it so much now that you’re not even shocked by it anymore. And I do think that the softening of what is racist is actually the real crazy thing that Trump did. And I think that we have to help people figure out the texture, because I do think people are outraged by the texture when they see it. But just the idea, I think, is no longer enraging to people. 


Myles E. Johnson: I just don’t know about that. Like, I like, I think most people know Nazis showing up somewhere, bad news. And I think, I don’t know if it’s a if if it’s a critical or intellectual I don’t understand the texture of a thing. I think it’s a suppression of the news thing. I think that it’s that has to be it. But I, I, I, and I know a lot of different types of Black folks and I know a different, a lot of different types of white folks. I grew up in suburban Georgia, very close to rural Georgia. All of the people who wear the rebel flags still understood that Nazism was bad, and and even when they were wielding it–


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah but that’s not what I was saying. 


Myles E. Johnson:  they were wielding–


DeRay Mckesson: I, I, we don’t disagree. 


Myles E. Johnson: Uh huh. 


DeRay Mckesson: That’s just not what I said. So–


Myles E. Johnson: Got it. 


DeRay Mckesson: Bad is different than outraged. And I do think people understand it’s bad, but a lot of stuff is bad. I think that people I think people see the Trump rallies and think that’s bad. But I think that like sort of the container of what is racist. I think a lot of people are like well it’s all bad. We know people are rac– like I just don’t think it’s like outrageous anymore. I think there was a moment where like, Nazis walking down the street would be outrageous. People would be like, this is crazy. But they just had a rally in Nashville at noon. Like it just, you know, it was like covered on the news as like a regular rally. So I just don’t think people are outraged anymore. I think that even with your example, as I think that it is become people see the Trump flags or the Confederate flags and sort of like, well, that’s racist. Like, it just I don’t think people are like outraged. I think they’re like, well, that was racist. And I do think the question is like– 


De’Ara Balenger: I think. 


DeRay Mckesson: How do we help the outrage happen? 


De’Ara Balenger: I think that’s right, DeRay, because I think I feel like that’s what happened with abortion. I feel like it was bit by bit, everyone being like, ugh, that’s wild. Hmm hmm, interesting. And now ban. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I also, you know, and I had conversations and you know, I make I move throughout the whole country all the time, every in and out, all these places. I feel like we all do. But I move and I know in some places that’s a privilege that I can move freely. But I had conversations with my grandparents, especially my my mom’s parents. My grandma was Mexican. My grandpa was Black where they couldn’t move together as a couple safely without fear or harm in their lives. You know what I’m saying? And I think DeRay, that’s what what you’re saying that’s what it’s bringing up for me, is that there’s actually going to be like, if this if this stuff continues we’re going to be back to Jim Crow days where it’s actually and this is obviously this is still true. It’s still so, so true in America today where we just can’t walk in certain spaces, but there’s going to be a, a palpable even more extreme sort of boundary on where we can go and how we can feel comfort. And that is that’s already true for so many people. But it’s going to be a lot more. It’s going to be out of control scaled true. You see, y’all understand what I’m saying? 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, yeah. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah and to Myles’s point. Like, I do think one of the things I think is really interesting and dangerous that we got to figure out and Kaya to your point, everybody’s point actually is like, I think people are exhausted. I think that our people are exhausted by hearing everything’s about race. Like it they don’t they’re not denying that it’s true. I think they are overwhelmed by it. So I think that is like a a real thing–


Kaya Henderson: Yes. 


DeRay Mckesson: –we have to contend  with. And the right because they lie. People sort of like I, there’s a guy I went to college with who argued me down that DeSantis did not do the book ban and he was like, no, no, I was at this thing and DeSantis said he did not sign a bill saying book ban. [laughter] And I’m like, no, no, no. 


Kaya Henderson: [laugh] Lies. 


DeRay Mckesson: He really did do the book ban. 


Kaya Henderson: Yeah right. 


DeRay Mckesson: And he’s like, no, no, no, the bill was not called book ban. That’s just like left wing propaganda. And I’m like, and I know him. And he’s like, no, no, no, no, no. DeSantis is really clear that that’s a that that is not true, that he did not enable a book ban. And it’s just like, what do you do? You know, I’m spending 30 minutes going back and forth with this guy because, you know, he is listening to this talking point being like it just didn’t happen. And I’m [laugh] and I’m at a point I’m exhausted. I’m like, okay, I’ll just I’m a let him go. 


De’Ara Balenger: Exactly. 


DeRay Mckesson: And I’ll move on to the next, you know what I mean, and that is this sort of weird thing that’s happening. And I think that the right is actually playing on Black conservatism in a way that is dishonest but politically effective. And I don’t think that we have a good response to it. 


De’Ara Balenger: No. 


DeRay Mckesson: Because I think that more Black people believe what Clinton said about abortion, which was like, what safe, safe, effective and rare. Something like that. Safe, legal and rare, like, I think a lot of people actually, but which is not a ban. It just, you know, I might not think you should get an abortion, but like, you should have the right to like that sort of. I think a lot of people I know believe that. But the ban is a you know, they don’t want a they don’t want not the choice to have it. And, you know, I think that playing on Black conservatism is actually an effective strategy for the right. I know we’ve been talking for a while. 


De’Ara Balenger: And you all know the other thing that the Supreme Court is hearing this week and I don’t know, I don’t know if this came out today. Um. But basically taking, like looking at the the big social media giants and saying that you actually can’t decide what’s hate speech and what’s not like everything needs to be allowed. Based off big uh Greg Abbott’s law in Texas, where he felt that a lot of the conservative views on social media were being suppressed and so created a law in Texas that actually, like, protected those folks, uh against against the social media giants. So I think all that to say, everything we’re saying, depending on how the Supreme Court goes on this. I think DeRay, what the misinformation and disinformation that we’ll hear will be even more extreme if Supreme Court doesn’t go the right way on this one. So, y’all, my news it’s it’s very quick. I’m not going to I’m just going to uh give you a couple a couple thoughts on it, but essentially, um I did I actually didn’t know this. I was in a conversation with some folks and they were like, De’Ara, what do you think about AOC supporting Joe Biden? And I was like, who? What is she doing? Um. And so I think having not known that AOC had come out. I didn’t even see this news that she came out supporting Joe Biden in January, like, endorsed him for president, but then also came out um early last week. Um. And and basically, you know, the the rallying cry that happened around President Biden, around his, his, his competency, um given the um, the report that came out, she was basically one of the folks that came out and said, you know, he’s I’m going to support one of the most successful presidents that we’ve ever had. And so, I don’t know, I just I wanted to talk about this because it just seemed it just seems, given her journey of where she started. Um. And, you know, being a, you know, um self-described socialist, um and just given a lot, a lot of what the animos– her animosity uh has been against the Democratic Party and not for not for wrong reasons. Don’t don’t don’t, um I don’t wanna be on on the wrong on the wrong side of things, but I think I just found it very interesting. Kind of this this song change, tune change that’s happening with her in her support of Joe Biden. You know, she was she was very much a Bernie person. In the early days and, you know, I think he’s done quite well given the limitations that we have. Um. I do think there are ebbs and flows, but essentially she’s saying, I think right now, when it comes the president’s age, folks are talking about how he’s 81. But we have to look at, first of all, Donald Trump who is around the same age. They could have gone to high school together. And beyond that, Donald Trump has 91 indictments. Very true. Um. [laughing] So anyhow, I just wanted to bring this to the pod and share it because I it wasn’t on my radar. I don’t know if y’all if this has come up for y’all at all, but um, I just found it interesting. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. I think a couple of things could be true. True about, about this I think the first I think the first thing is that, you know, nobody wants to see Trump reelected. [laugh] Um. 


De’Ara Balenger: That part. 


Myles E. Johnson: So, so, so everybody’s kind of like, okay, let’s let’s just get on board and, and and and endorse him. And then also, the second thing which is true for a lot of, for, for a lot of people is that most people get more conservative as they age. And that looks different um for, for everybody. But we might be literally seeing that with AOC is that, you know, she might be getting looking more um she might be becoming what we would see as more conservative because she’s getting older and she’s more absorbed into government politics. And that’s, that’s often a, a result of that, too. 


De’Ara Balenger: But I– 


Kaya Henderson: Isn’t– 


De’Ara Balenger: –also think, Myles, it is it is she’s, she’s been watching because, for example. There right now are 46,000 infrastructure projects happening across the United States of America. That is because of Joe Biden’s work on infrastructure. Right. We just saw another billion. It was a couple billion dollars of debt that was canceled last week. So I think I think that’s right. I think as someone who has experienced getting more conservative with age, [laughter] um also just getting more. It’s probably less conservatives, just more fed up. Um. I think it is interesting for somebody who has kind of sat in Congress and has to watch things happen or not happen at the guidance at the behest of an administration. So I think I just I just don’t want to leave that out. I think what you’re saying is true, but I also think she’s actually been part and parcel of a lot of these, a lot of particularly around infrastructure, particular around the the student debt thing. I think she’s watched and participated and has did the fight with him. And it’s like, oh, okay. Um.


Kaya Henderson: I I agree De’Ara, there’s a piece in the article that, I want to just read, um because it first talks about how many of the people who got her elected as this firebrand democratic socialist are frustrated by this new version of AOC. But it says in the six years since she’s been elected, she’s found the solid footing of a pragmatic disrupter. She’ll cause trouble, but not needlessly or at a real cost to her party. And I think that pragmatism is the difference between inside and outside. It’s one thing to sit outside of the system and to throw, you know, stones and to burn it down and to whatnot. Once you get in the system and understand how it works. I think you don’t use the same strategies. Now, people could say good, bad or otherwise. But I think that what she is doing is understanding her context and figuring out how to use the new tools and resources that she has as a congresswoman to advance her agenda. And so I thought this was really, really interesting DeRay, it even like I I think about your, you know, like moves from protest to policy, it doesn’t mean that you don’t still protest. 


De’Ara Balenger: Agree. 


Kaya Henderson: Or won’t still protest, but you have understood or figured out that there are policy levers to pull, and so you could stay in the streets, or you could start moving with some different tools and strategies. And that that, to me, was the message that I was taking away from, from how she is now presenting herself. 


DeRay Mckesson: Yeah, I’ll just say I think asks AOC is one of the most interesting political figures of our time and our generation. I’m interested to see what she continues to do I, um you know, not secretly hope that she runs to be the next mayor of New York City just because I think she could do it. I think that, you know, Kaya, all those of us who had to work inside administration and make day to day decisions, it is a different version of hard, and I’d be interested to see her do that, uh because she has like the moral fortitude to do it and would learn the skills. And if these jokers can do it, she can she can do it better than them, and um so I’m interested in that. Um. My news is, is one that I only saw once online. I was shocked by it, and I feel like a broken record being like, I’m shocked by something. Uh. But in uh, Brockton, Massachusetts, the school committee has called on the governor to send in the National Guard to address what they call issues of violence. Now, let me quote the letter that they sent. They said that recent events at Brockton High School have prompted us to seek immediate assistance to prevent a potential tragedy. The National Guard’s expertise in crisis management and community support can offer a vital temporary intervention, allowing for a comprehensive, long term solution to be developed in consultation with all relevant stakeholders. The concerns that they list include incidents related to violence, security concerns and substance abuse, and then they go on. And this is perhaps the most fascinating part of this to me. They go on to say other concerning conditions include students wandering the halls, engaging in altercations and causing disruptions in classrooms, students leaving school premises without authorizations, and incidents of trespassing, with individuals gaining access to school property without proper authorization. Oh wait, that was the last one. And I just am, you know, that to me, sounds like a normal high school kids skipping class happens in a lot of high schools. Kids sort of misbehaving during class. When I saw this, I thought that there must have been some wild incident. And it wasn’t it was, you know, every reporting on this has been general high school. So the governor of Massachusetts, as you know, is the only person who can call in the National Guard. She has just sort of sidestepped this and not really engaged it, but I just am I don’t even know what it means that a random high school is calling in the National, wants the National Guard to come police the school and thinks that that’s going to restore order. Luckily, the mayor of the town is like, I don’t support this, it’s the school committee, a majority of the school committee that has sent this letter, but I just had to bring it because this was some stuff that I didn’t I was floored by. 


De’Ara Balenger: Especially since in Oklahoma, the non-binary student Nex Benedict, was killed in a bathroom fight. And there’s no thought to bring in you know, I feel like I don’t think you should ever bring in the National Guard, but I think the fact that, like, we’re not [laugh] there’s such disparate conversations around the safety of these kids and who is responsible for keeping them safe and how do we how do we do that? Um. I don’t know. That’s where my mind when it’s just. This is just. It’s just wild. 


Kaya Henderson: Um. My mind went to who what does Brockton High School look like? And what does Brockton look like? 


De’Ara Balenger: Well, we already know that. 


Kaya Henderson: And Brockton is a place that is 40% black and 32% white. Um I don’t really know who the other people are. But you can believe or the internet says that Brockton High School is 90% minority. Now, what I couldn’t do is Google what the demographics of the faculty. I first I tried to Google the school committee to see what they look like. And their names are up here. Um. The mayor is also part of the school committee, interestingly enough. Um. But they are just names and not pictures of them. But I could imagine what the school committee might look like. I could guess, and this is a reason why it is important um for people to be involved in local school board politics. Because school boards matter. They make lots of decisions around what is happening in schools and around schools. And if you don’t want your neighbors calling the National Guard on your colorful high schoolers, then you need to make sure that you are part of your school committee or your school board. Um. It also, it just speaks to the criminalization of young people of color like this it literally, you want you want to call the National Guard on your people? And what does this say about the adults at Brockton High School? Who are they? Why are they allowing? There are schools all over the country are dealing with young people who have similar challenges in lots of different places, and somehow or another, their teachers, their principals, their security guards are doing the hard, hard work. It is horrible. It is rough in schools right now, um but nobody else out here is thinking they should call the National Guard out on their children. Who are the adults in this situation, is my question? Shout out to the mayor for not even entertaining this. Um. And let’s have a real conversation about the people running that school and whether or not they should be running that school. If the only way that they can think to resolve the issues happening there are to call in a military force on teenagers. 


De’Ara Balenger: How they even afford that?


Myles E. Johnson: The only thing I can add is um also spiritually prepared for um the people who who are who are trying to make this happen to look like us. For whatever reason, it reminded me of um the super predator, uh when Hillary was running. And then a lot of people who were not around in the ’90s, including me. I’m I am people who were not around in the ’90s who were kind of like shots about how uh sometimes even Black people are um are are conspirators when it comes to stuff like this and how um certain choices that are made that seem like, oh, we we know exactly what those people will look like. Then sometimes they do look like us, and sometimes we don’t have the resources or the imaginations of how to address the things that are happening in the schools, but it always will make me sad and concerned when schools and prisons look more and more and more and more and more and more and more alike. 


De’Ara Balenger: Say it, mm hmm. 


DeRay Mckesson: I did just want to offer clarification, Myles to something you said earlier that people get more conservative over time. Um. You know, there’s recent research that suggests that political affiliation is actually really stable over time. More stable than we thought. But lit– people who identify as liberal. If anybody changes, those people are more likely to change conservative, conservatives are not more likely to change anything, but that our political affiliations are generally lifetime, which is interesting. 


De’Ara Balenger: And I think the, the also the nuances and I think Kaya said the word pragmatic. I think that’s what happens. That’s what happens for me is it’s–


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: –more about pragmatism than it is about. I can’t think of anything I’m conservative about. I’m very conservative about a coffee shop needs to have almond milk and oat milk. [laughter] But I think I think beyond. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


De’Ara Balenger: I can’t think of anything else that would be. You know what I’m saying? That would fall into into conservatism. I think there’s also just a, you know, you you you care less. And this is, again, for my own purposes, I care less about what people think and that that’s also whether they are, whoever they are in the Democratic Party or in an industry or whatever, I my view is going to be what my view is, and I think but I think actually I think Myles, your generation actually had has that. I had to come to that. 


Myles E. Johnson: Mm hmm. 


De’Ara Balenger: I felt like I needed to, you know, have my chops and do this and do that to be able to have a valued voice in a conversation. So I think that’s where, that’s definitely where my, my appreciation um and, and kind of being inspired by this generation that is like this is my view. 


Myles E. Johnson: Well don’t be too inspired. 


De’Ara Balenger: Right? 


Myles E. Johnson: Because it’s still the same cycle. [laughter] So you’ll have to wait until we’re 40 and 50 to see if it’s truly inspiring. And I think AOC being pragmatic is good. Like I think that her moving is good. I think that, you know, for every firebrand that becomes, I don’t know, a steam brand, I don’t know [laugh] it’s [?] less, a less fiery brand. Whatever. Um. There needs to be new firebrands that kind of have that same energy. And I think that’s how things progress in the progressive parties. Um. But yeah, the more people get money, jobs, all uh property, all these things, uh influence you to get more conservative the more people have um status and and social circles of people, um that that are more conservative or have access, all those things influence what people want to do. A part of the Blackest Book Club programming, I got to speak to author and just bad gal, um Raquel Willis. It was such a great, great conversation to have with her about her book. Um. The Risk It Takes to Bloom. I hope you all enjoy it. Um. We have so enjoyed this conversation around Black literature that we’re going to be continuing these talks all up until March, and maybe we’ll focus specifically on some more women authors, because it’s going to be Women’s History Month. But I think this is going to be something that will last. Um. You know, I’m I’m advocating that we just that we never turn Blackest Book Club off. It got to be Black and and and literary all year long, though I’m [?]. I’m super.


Kaya Henderson: I love it, I love it.


Myles E. Johnson: I’m super excited about that. We also want to say, you know, just giving our, uh just prayers up to Hydeia Broadbent, who passed away, who’s a HIV and Aids activist. She died at 39. There’s so much work to do in the HIV and Aids landscape, and she definitely just tore the roof off. I remember watching her talk to, um to uh, I was watching Nick news because I was even informed at a very young age, and I remember her seeing her um speak to Magic Johnson with, um Linda Ellerby and me having such a uh uh just it just broke my mind open that every child is not living the life I was living and also it gave my mother and my oldest sister such space to talk to me about what was happening specifically around HIV and Aids. So although Hydeia Broadbent is not here with us in the physical, her spirit and her activism is living on through everybody who is more enlightened and strengthened through her work. 


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned, there’s more to come. 


[AD BREAK] [music break]


Myles E. Johnson: We are here with superwoman Raquel Willis. [laugh] Um. That’s how I’m going to refer to you this whole conversation. Um. Again, I felt like I knew you as an acquaintance in like through the, like periphery of just like knowing. I feel like the Black queer world is so small. Um. After reading this book and then watching all your interviews now, I feel like I probably have too bad of a parasocial relationship with you. Like, so if I get too fresh, be like, be like, we ain’t friends like that. Because I feel like I know you so well now. Um.


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: The first thing I want to say is congratulations on the book. 


Raquel Willis: Thank you. 


Myles E. Johnson: It’s rea–


Raquel Willis: Thank you so much. 


Myles E. Johnson: It’s a really good. It’s really good. It’s really. And I guess this leads into, like, one of my first questions I want to ask you. It’s a really good balance between being honest but also not recreating trauma for a white gaze. Because that’s maybe what makes this more marketable. Was that a conscious effort? Is that something that you thought about because you did it pretty masterfully. Because I was waiting for the shoe to drop, [laugh] and I was like, oh, she just refuses to go to a Tyler Perry place with this. And I love it. 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. I mean. Interestingly, I don’t know that I, I see my life in that way. Um. And so I guess that’s a testament to my view and my vantage point. I mean, I definitely think I’ve had these difficult moments, but I guess when I consider the difficult moments of my life, whether it was reckoning with the death of my father and my grandma and reckoning with, uh these moments of violence and murder within the Black trans community specifically. I guess there’s an understanding that there’s an unfortunate universality to that. Um. And I think also, there’s a collective experience that we’ve had within Black, queer and trans movement. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: Um. Around these dynamics. So, yeah, I mean, I think the melodramatic approach. I don’t know how much of an entry point that is versus letting folks understand that our struggles are all connected. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. Right. And again, I think you just did it masterfully. And I and I get maybe not I think it does start with that point of view. Maybe that’s just not how you think about your own life or the world so why would you articulate it like that? But, um it reminds me I haven’t seen the film yet, but it um uh, from what I’ve gathered around the film, um American Fiction? 


Raquel Willis: Oh yes. [laugh]


Myles E. Johnson: So, like, and how he like [?] like, kind of like, goes into certain tropes and then it ends up being a big hit. So I always when I queer that and trans that I’m like, oh, when you when I tell you like it it there’s definitely incentive and to like maybe um to do that. And I was really to be honest, like relieved when reading the text, I was really relieved. I was like, wow, okay. There’s a way to still be honest and still go into the dark without um uh turning it into like, literary, like minstrelsy for like, a better word.[laugh]


Raquel Willis: Wow. That’s true, I definitely think that, well it’s balance. It’s a weird balance because I think when I started working in earnest and on this book in 2020, it felt like we were in a different place, like it felt like this idea of sensationalism around trans people’s experiences and bodies had kind of fallen away um in mainstream culture, a little bit. I mean, of course people like um Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, you know, broke down the door in so many ways around some of those really prurient uh inquiries into the trans experience, some, you know, eight or so years ago. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: So I felt like there was a freedom here for me to speak candidly without feeling like I had to do the 101 thing or um heighten what I feel like is just like my life, right? Like my life– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: –is my life. I don’t see it as um this kind of melodramatic thing. Now, what’s been interesting has been now in this time, a few years removed from when I started working on the book. And we’re in a different kind of era of discourse around trans experiences, where because of conservative politicians, because of this hateful legislation that’s been moving across the country over the last three years. Um. In some ways, some of that weird sensationalist bigotry has returned and ignorance has returned. And so I’ve had interviews. I mean, most recently– 


Myles E. Johnson: I’m glad I’m glad that you said it first. 


Raquel Willis: –where I have been a bit shocked at some of the retreading of ignorance that has happened. I had an ABC interview um back closer to when the book released in November. That was that started out with a passage about my body and my experience in relationship to my genitalia, as if that was some major theme in the book. And really, that was only about a paragraph or so at that particular point in the book. And it was just weird that they started the interview with that. Or I had an interview with [?] recently for that show and that podcast and the rollout of that on social media. The clips that were chosen from an otherwise candid, vulnerable interview were ones that focused on these really reductive conversations from a cisgender, straight lens around my dating life and the two longest relationships, or, deepest relationships I talk about in the book are actually relationships with trans masculine people, so that the takeaway from my book and that discussion was to focus on, well, when do you tell cis men that you’re trans if you’re dating them. It was just fucking weird to be quite frank. 


Myles E. Johnson: Raquel, I’m so glad you went there first, because I was going to go there because I have been a I’m very proud of you in this in this book. I am so utterly disappointed in the things that I’ve witnessed you have to interact with, because it’s almost as if to your point that every single thing that Janet Mock did, every single thing that Laverne Cox did, because let’s let’s be real, being that exceptional Black, trans, queer person is a sacrifice. When you over here telling people about 101 because we know how we we you know, again, we’re acquaintances, but at the same time we kind of roll in similar circles. So, you know, we how how gnarly we can talk. You know how you know what we–


Raquel Willis: Yes. 


Myles E. Johnson: –can really what we really talk about. So for us to put on these kind of like tokenized exceptional veneers and teach you this elementary stuff just for you to make um, you know, shade room click bait, I was, I was, I was, I was floored I’m not going to hold you, I was floored, I was floored. Um. That leads me to I have two very unimportant but important questions to me. 


Raquel Willis: Mm hmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: First, are we excited about Beyonce? [laughter]


Raquel Willis: I am excited about Beyonce and Act II. I think it’s going to be much broader than country. I know people are saying, oh, this is a country album. I think that’s going to be one element. But just like she did with Act 1, right? Like it was– 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: All these different versions of dance music from house to disco, post disco, etc., etc. so I think we’re going to get country. I think we’re going to get some folk, maybe some Americana roots, bluesy music. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: I think it’s going to be a broad palette, but I am excited. And I do have to be honest. I mean, having watched, of course, the Super Bowl and Usher’s amazing performance, there was a lot going on. [laughing] I feel like he felt like he had to check off a lot of boxes, but otherwise– 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: –I was entertained. But what’s hard in this moment as someone with a big, empathetic heart, a social justice uh commitment is like, how do we hold these big moments that are supposed to be an escape or joy that are, you know, of course, always laden with these capitalist urges and all of that stuff and also the destruction of, of course, so many people’s around the world, from the Congo to the Sudan and then, of course, and Palestine, like it is hard. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: And I, I don’t think that we’re having real conversations around holding all of this at once, I think it is hard in this moment to yeah, hold all of that, because we know the complicity that all of us are a part of in America, in the United States. 


Myles E. Johnson: I love I I love that you um, that you took it there because I think that, like, you know, again, when I first started making, like, maybe like digital commentary on the internet, my first, you know, I was always a little bit of a rebellious person, so people not necessarily liking what I had to say was, like, not new to me. 


Raquel Willis: I remember. 


Myles E. Johnson: What I’m, what I’m [laugh] but what I’m witnessing is that more people are talking how I, how we were talking, you know, and we at first we were like the wet blankets, and we were like, you can’t enjoy anything and stuff like that. And now more and more people are really having to, to really have to reconcile with the fact that, yes, you are in this big corporate fantasy thing that so many of our dearest artists are a part of that make us feel good. But at the same time, there’s a bomb being dropped and these things are happening right against each other. And I think we can see things happening in um, you know, Palestine and then see people in Israel, um at a concert or celebrating and feel like, oh, that’s feel dystopian. But really, the whole globe is our home. And if somebody is being bombed anywhere, then we where we are playing football and watching these spectacular performances while terror is happening at the same time, and I think I’m seeing so many people reconcile, um like reconcile with that. So uh, thank you for taking it there. Which is why I wanted to give it to you, because I knew we would you would take it to a deeper place. My second question. 


Raquel Willis: Mm hmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: My second question is, are you tired of hearing or being asked about Dave Chappelle? 


Raquel Willis: I don’t get asked about him often, so it was interesting to be asked about him in this recent interview. Um. 


Myles E. Johnson: So not even in your casual life. Like when other–


Raquel Willis: In my casual life? No, no. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. 


Raquel Willis: I mean, I feel like the folks who are in my life um know where I stand I guess. But I, I think what grates on me is that I hate that the entry points that we have to talk about transness or queerness are often when these cis het people invoke us. Right. It’s never enough for us to just create things to commentate, to critique on our own. Our biggest entry points into these larger conversations are alwa– almost always when somebody comes at us sideways. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right, right. 


Raquel Willis: And then, like you said to your previous point, um then we’re called wet blankets, or we can’t take a joke and it’s like, yeah I, I don’t want you who are also the person that’s killing me to make the joke. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. [laugh]


Raquel Willis: Like why does that make sense to you? 


Myles E. Johnson: Right, right. Read the oppression, read the room. Um. But I love that that didn’t happen. That’s also probably telling me that I do find myself in, like um I’ve always I don’t know what’s been about. I’ve always found myself in, like, straight dude places a lot of times, like since like my Okayplayer stuff. So I’ll always when I’m with my like queer trans family. Of course, that’s just not coming up. But um. 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: I will find myself being like the person who’s asked about it. I’m like, I haven’t cared about Dave Chappelle since Dave Chappelle Block Party. So why are you asking me um? 


Raquel Willis: Since he was funny. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. Come on, come on. 


Raquel Willis: Cause. 


Myles E. Johnson: Um so. 


Raquel Willis: It’s not funny. 


Myles E. Johnson: One of one of my favorite things that you did in the book um and I, there’s a couple of literary things that you did but I guess one of my favorite, like, pop cultural things that you did was you kind of brought me back to Michael Jordan because I forgot about Michael Jordan, like, which is a interesting thing to say. But I was like, no, I was there with my [?] Space Jam cups. I was doing, so when you were say–


Raquel Willis: The Monstars all of it. 


Myles E. Johnson: So when you were saying it I [?]–


Raquel Willis: [?] Miss Lola, honey. 


Myles E. Johnson: Come on, come on. Because she had the high pony. She had, she had the um she she she had got her little um, her little uh botox right here. 


Raquel Willis: Oh! 


Myles E. Johnson: So her she had those nice little fox eyes. Yeah. Um. [laughter] But um, um but that led that led me to, like, have a, like, a bigger um idea because I was like, oh, Michael Jordan. And then, of course, the other Michael that kind of dominated our um landscape was Michael Jackson. And I was wondering because I felt like, who’s the better per– there’s just really not a better person for me to ask this question is like–


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: What is your relationship today with Black excellence and exceptionalism? Like when I, when I, when you brought me there, I was like, wow, we are really we drink the kind of Gen-X Kool Aid of like exceptionalism. And and by the time we were growing up, we had the Michael Jacksons and the Michael Jordans and the Oprahs. And, you know, to be to be transparent we’re all kind of I think negotiating that. So I was wondering like what what is what is your place when it comes to that Black exceptionalism today? 


Raquel Willis: Mmm. So it’s, it’s interesting, um that you bring up the Michael Jackson mention. No one else has done that. And I really tried to use that as a, you know, an avatar for this. And to your point exceptional version of Black masculinity, right? Like something to aspire to. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: And especially, and I think in the ’90s and 2000s, I feel like some of it has fallen away a little bit. But this idea of striving to be, you know, this kind of paragon of like, black masculine excellence in particular, was like, be an athlete, you know, or or be something like that, right? Um. And of course, I was a young queer person who later realized, oh, I’m also trans like, that didn’t fit. And I I felt that discord early on and not necessarily about the athletic part, although I was nobody’s athlete throughout my life, but just about these ideals around Black masculinity. And and another thing that I referenced is, you know, The Cosby Show and the Huxtables, which–


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: I think is so interesting to think about the grip and the chokehold that The Cosby Show had over this idea of Black excellence in the ’80s and ’90s, because, of course, since then we’ve peeled back some layers. We now, you know, Bill Cosby as the serial sexual abuser. All of these different things. 


Myles E. Johnson: Nothing excellent. 


Raquel Willis: Which I think is very telling. 


Myles E. Johnson: Going on. 


Raquel Willis: But I think this idea of Black excellence, we have to continue to unpack it. Right? Like I think, we don’t interrogate enough that our idea of Black excellence is often wrapped up in this kind of capitalistic excellence. Right. Whether whether we look at who we were just talking about. Right. The Carters right. As much as we may love their art. They are capitalist to the core, right? And really– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. Right.


Raquel Willis: –push this idea that capitalism will save Black folks or lead Black folks to Black liberation. And that’s not true. Um. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: We also have to interrogate respectability, right? A large part of Black excellence is also how much it can give us an easier route to the American dream. Right. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: Which often means how much we can bow to white supremacy, whether it’s like in the workplace, right? Whether it’s like losing, you know your natural kind of dialect to speak a certain way or– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: Having to wear your hair a certain way or any of these different things. Those are like basic examples or it’s this idea that you have to be in bed with cis heteronormativity. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: And it’s like I want Black folks to know, baby, you’re inherently gender non-conforming. And just like you trying to you— 


Myles E. Johnson: Hold on. Hold on–


Raquel Willis: Just–


Myles E. Johnson: Hold on, hold on. Okay. [laughing] You weren’t about to tap that and not okay. So we’re saying Black folks are inherently gender nonconforming. Can we can we take tease that out a little bit? Because I like it. 


Raquel Willis: Black folks. I’m going there. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. 


Raquel Willis: So Black folks are inherently gender nonconforming. So many groups are right. But I, I use this– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: –frame particularly for Black folks because–


Myles E. Johnson: We Black and we talk about Black people. 


Raquel Willis: I’ve I’ve been told throughout my life that I’m not doing gender right. That I’m not boy enough. And then, of course, now not woman enough. I want Black cis het folks to know that you will never be man enough, and you will never be woman enough. And the way that you, many of you often come at queer and trans people, is also a reflection of the way that y’all come at each other. Right? 


Myles E. Johnson: Come on. 


Raquel Willis: And so much of this is like a competition on who can be stronger, who can dominate a category or an identity. And it’s like, none of us are winning. We’ve got to completely let these scripts go and allow each other to move on our own path and be the drivers of our own destinies. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oooh, I always say, first of all, Raquel, I like love you. Like, [laugh] again already felt like I’ve always felt such a already felt such a kindred vibe with you after reading and seeing so many interviews and been so being so proud of you. Um. But I’ve always said I was like, you know, if we’re being realistic um, Black people arrived to America as technology. We came here as brooms. We came here as we came here as brooms, we came here as mops. And that’s how come so many and I get it, because so many of the um requests for humanity are wrapped up in gender. So Emmett Till happens and then what is the response to that? I’m a man. And then a woman a woman wants to be able to um get have self-empowerment self-determination. And what does she say? Ain’t I a woman like, that’s been so–


Raquel Willis: Yes. 


Myles E. Johnson: –wrapped up in it. But we have to really, really engage with the idea that you can’t [?] something or request something or act something that you are granted, which means that we were never really granted gender because we never have fully been granted humanity. And I think that like our identities disrupt that because how dare you– 


Raquel Willis: They do. 


Myles E. Johnson: –not continue the fight and continue the relay race? And I’m like, because there there might be something better for for for all of us. 


Raquel Willis: You know, it goes beyond just the Black experience, I mean. White folks are also never going to live up to the ideals that they set out for themselves either. 


Myles E. Johnson: Mm hmm. 


Raquel Willis: And so this like policing that is such a part of our culture has got to go, on so many levels. 


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. Absolutely. Um. I’m kind of poking around my questions and seeing where it goes. So um this is a question I have wait, waited for later, but it feels so right. So I want to know is um, is realness relevant anymore? 


Raquel Willis: Mmm, is realness relevant?


Myles E. Johnson: While you’re pondering, I’m going to, like, insert a little bit of 101 because I feel like this is about 102 realness. 


Raquel Willis: Go for it. Yes.


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. But, but but essentially realness is something that was um, created inside of the ballroom scene and it’s language given to somebody who is of a queer or trans identity who passes. So this is somebody who you would see who is um, who’s a trans woman. And you would never um because of strictly esthetics you would never uh think that, oh, she has a trans journey. You would think that, oj this was a uh biological female who then adorned womanhood, which is the the cis journey. Um. And realness has then, you know taken many sprouts and stuff like that. So I always say that sometimes I give like academic realness, even though my background is so many different things. So I’m like, I’m like, yes, I’m giving my I was just I just um, was talking to my um, my partner and they saw me in my um turtleneck as I’m talking to you and my glasses and I’m like, yes, I’m in my Bell Hooks drag today. But like, it’s such a performance and like [?] and what can you get away with? So with that being said– 


Raquel Willis: What can you get away with?


Myles E. Johnson: So with — 


Raquel Willis: Well. 


Myles E. Johnson: With that being said, what do you do you think realness is relevant? 


Raquel Willis: I think authenticity is relevant because I don’t think that realness is always authentic. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. 


Raquel Willis: Um. For as it lands on me right now, this ability to be able to assimilate in a cis gender society as a trans person. That’s a type of currency, that’s a type of protection. Um. But we should be fighting for a world where that isn’t necessary. Right. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: And I think we can acknowledge that currency and protection that comes from realness. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: Without making that the goal of our work. Right? 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: And so I know that I check a lot of boxes off on many different levels. Right? Not just in being cisgender assumed. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: But also in terms of, you know, socio economic privilege, particularly growing up in a middle class family or access to education and on and on. But I’m not fighting for and I don’t believe that liberation should just be for folks who check off all of those boxes. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. Right.


Raquel Willis: And that’s not what I want the message of my work to be. So I try to be very clear about that. And, you know, the difference between realness and authenticity to me is like when we talk about realness again we’re often talking about so many different things, we’re we’re often also talking about pretty privilege. We’re talking about being able to assimilate because of class and all of these different things. Um. We’re talking about being able to speak a certain way or speak even–


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. 


Raquel Willis: –certain languages or, you know, have a certain knowledge set, and that may not actually be authentic. Right? Like– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: Is the code switching that I have to do, does that is that version of me authentic, more authentic than the version that isn’t code switching? 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. Right, right. Absolutely. 


Raquel Willis: You know, so I think we have to be able to disentangle what realness is, how it functions. And how much we’re going to serve it and be complicit in it. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. And I think, again, one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you about um the Michael Jordan piece and because, you know, one thing that me and you do share, too, is, you know, my background, my parents were way more hippies um than than your parents were. But we still had pre– 


Raquel Willis: Definitely. 


Myles E. Johnson: [?] we did. But we definitely um, still had like a very similar, like, middle class, upper middle class background that is like in and because most of my background happened in um Paulding County, Georgia. Um.


Raquel Willis: Yes. 


Myles E. Johnson: So, so, so like it was again, that’s there was like this kindredness that I felt with you. But I think because my parents were both queer and it was a that’s kind of where it stopped when it came to like relat– like [laughter] [?] when I was reading it so I was, I was– 


Raquel Willis: So you’re saying you’re more you’re more well-adjusted. That’s that’s what you’re getting at. 


Myles E. Johnson: I’m more well adjusted to well adjusted to live in Brooklyn in 2024 probably. Like I– [laughing] 


Raquel Willis: Right, right, right. [laughing]


Myles E. Johnson: But there’s probably other there’s probably so many places, even Manhattan right now where it’s like you’re way more adjusted than I am because my parents were like well we are going to listen to Coltrane on a commute. And I’m like, you ain’t tell me about taxes? Like, come on, [laughing] work– 


Raquel Willis: Oh no, they did they didn’t tell me about all any of that either, so. 


Myles E. Johnson: Oh good. [laughter] We need a [?]. We need a, we need a queer like a rainbow money thing. Like we out of all the colors that the rainbow people need to concentrate on, green is one of them. Because there’s a lot of us are like, here and we do not know how to navigate it because it’s just it was never it was never a possibility needed when you don’t when you don’t have, you know? Um.


Raquel Willis: Yeah, well. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. No, that’s so true. Um. Well, I want to circle back again because I the I’m still stuck on the realness and uh passing conversation. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: And I know that we think of that as, you know what we more so talk about it in the trans experience conversation or even a racial experience conversation. But I guess just sticking with gender cis people try to pass as a lot of things all the time, you know, whether it’s like the cis het man who pretends he cares that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl or– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: It’s the cis het woman who won’t tell her mama that she doesn’t want to have kids. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. That’s–


Raquel Willis: So, I mean, those are all different types of passing. We just don’t think about it or talk about it in that way. 


Myles E. Johnson: And again, that brilliant point and I, you know, and you know me, I’ll, I, I see your point and I take you up one. Is I’m so interested in class as well. And– 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: There’s when I look at so many Black women and Black folks, um talking about luxury and stuff like that, you’re trying to pass into something. 


Raquel Willis: Soft life. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, you soft life and I’m like I’m like I’m like, it’s hard outside. You don’t you [laugh] you don’t have to lie to us. We know it’s hard it’s hard outside and we can see it. And then even when I really because New York is such a interesting place with how classes intermingle. Um. It’s so interesting to see, like and even in Atlanta, like, just, just because of my privileged background in Atlanta and seeing, like, Black people who like had wealth. Black people–


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: –and wore, our Black wealth. You know. 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: [?] air quotes, but to really see it and be like, oh, I know what it looks like. Like I’ve been around the kids who have all and they’re Black and they have all, and they’re doing things that I’m like, what the what is going on and, and and they’re in Jack and Jill. And I see the performance of trying to get the pass code to have to look like you have all and those are different things. And that is a that’s realness versus passing too when you have to wear this, but don’t wear it with this logo like that is all things that we have to think about even in our own community. Um. When I’m with my, my trans girlfriends, like it’s a thing to be like, oh, that’s too draggy, you know what I mean? Or that’s too [?]– 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: That’s too [?] that’s too drag like because there’s a there’s a there’s a always just like little tightrope that we’re balancing. 


Raquel Willis: Mm hmm. There is, there is. And I think the line is like, we have to figure out, well, what are our preferences for ourselves and try not to–


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. 


Raquel Willis: –project them on each other because we all have them. Um.


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: Absolutely. One of one of the um one of the things that you do again, so this is more of a literary thing that you do, you kind of re revisit the idea of blooming and um I think one of the things that I found like very like poetically brilliant about it, um like a like a very, like Toni Morrison quality that you were brought to it. Was that when you when you– 


Raquel Willis: Oh Lord. 


Myles E. Johnson: –when you [?] [laugh]  I feel like we have to start, A, getting our flowers. And then also I think that we have to start talking to each other like we are, because the grown ups are leaving the building through death, through a time– 


Raquel Willis: They are. 


Myles E. Johnson: Through through losing their damn minds. And you’re like, oh my God, we we you should have took the mic. So I think that we have to start talking to our peers and to other people around us like they are the brilliance that that that they are. So and I and I want to say that how you used liter– in in in in this text, how you used blooming was really, really brilliant. And, and to me, when I think of a Black woman doing brilliant literature, I can’t not talk about a Toni Morrison. I can’t not talk about a Nikki Giovanni, who I just saw her doc like that’s just like those people you have to talk about. So even though it feels like–


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: –a lot of pressure, it’s still like, this is our family. Those are great aunts. Those are our family. So when we’re writing, we’re writing in tandem with them. But to my point, you kind of you kind of revisit blooming. And what you made me think about is that blooming is not a one time event, which I which honestly I always think about because I, internalized ageism. So I’m like, so I’m like, oh no, you bloom, you bloom, or you bloomed and it’s going. And how and what you really made me rethink was like, oh no, you bloomed and then you’re blooming again. And there’s another thing to bloom and there’s another thing to bloom. So A, thank you for that because that really. 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: Woke something up in me. And then also I wanted to I wanted to ask like, where do you see yourself blooming to now? Like, what’s, what do you see? What’s the next step I guess?


Raquel Willis: I guess that’s what’s hard as I feel like I’m in a completely new stage of my life. Um. Particularly on the other side of this book, and not necessarily in terms of professionally, but personally, I think that writing on this level has required a different, a deeper type of vulnerability than I’ve ever shared with this many people. And so there are different requirements in my like inner tier tiers of folks around intimacy that I didn’t really kind of require before. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: There are different expectations around acknowledging conflict and moving through it. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. 


Raquel Willis: You know, um and so many different things. So it’s hard for me to know where I’m blooming to. It’s like in some ways I feel like I’m a different kind of sprout right now. And then I’m on the journey to bloom again. But it’s too early to tell what those challenges and lessons are going to be. 


Myles E. Johnson: That makes that makes so much sense to me. And and because like you really intertwined like your professional journey with your personal journey in this, it makes sense. Um. I, I wouldn’t dare to know what where you should go personally. Um. But I would dare not saying I’m going to be right. But I would tell you– 


Raquel Willis: Okay. 


Myles E. Johnson: –where I hope that you bloom into when it comes to– 


Raquel Willis: Okay. 


Myles E. Johnson: –professionally. I wouldn’t say anything personally, but professionally, what I would really because you have the background in journalism, right? 


Raquel Willis: Mm hmm. 


Myles E. Johnson: You are at Out magazine, right? 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: And sister I think that like and I see how important media is. I I see that for you. Like I see, I see like a, I see you having your own like media platform. 


Raquel Willis: I hear that because I think I’m definitely at a point where I and I think a lot of folks who have been a part of our, our generation of media are burned. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: Burned out. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: And burned by–


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: How short lived some of our experiences in these institutions have been. 


Myles E. Johnson: Used us up. 


Raquel Willis: Used us up, ground us up, and then there left nothing for us to go to, right? I mean, we’re still seeing all of these layoffs, like it’s it’s difficult. And then of course, we see the consolidation of media under, to your point, right wing conservatives like it’s unfortunate and I mean to speak more specifically about niche media. It is unfortunate that Black folks in particular have so few outlets that we can lean on that are actually journalistically sound. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. 


Raquel Willis: And morally sound. 


Myles E. Johnson: Come on. Come on, come on. [sigh] I again. I love, love, love talking to you. That is how. That’s how I feel, too. That’s how I feel too and I think that’s how come, even after reading the book, I wanted to even like plant, like the inkling of it, because sometimes it just is like you first hear it and you’re like, no, that’s too big or whatever. But then, you know, things happen. The universe has a way, you know, and then step by step you’re like, oh, this is actually more doable. And I try to put it in a couple of people’s ears, wait really one other person’s ear. Um. And after reading your book, I was like, oh my goodness. Like, you actually know the hard part, which is the journalism and how to run a business, because if you’ve seen a business tank, then you know how to run a business, [laughter] because that’s the best lesson of what to do. Um.


Raquel Willis: It is. 


Myles E. Johnson: [?] so, so [?] because of what was what not to do. So I was like I’m gonna put that in Raquel’s ear like I don’t know. So um. 


Raquel Willis: Okay, well look, I’m gonna take it.


Myles E. Johnson: Listen. Listen.


Raquel Willis: You know, it’s just a little bug, so we’ll see if the bug bite me. 


Myles E. Johnson: You know? Um. So there’s a couple of questions as we um, as we um close, there’s a couple of questions that we always ask everybody who is interviewed on the pod. The first question is, what’s a piece of advice you’ve gotten over the years that’s stuck with you? 


Raquel Willis: [sigh] A piece of advice that I’ve gotten over the years that has stuck with me. So much um I’ll I’ll let my dad’s, you know, one of the things that he would say, um I’ll let that come through. He used to say um, you know, treat everyone with respect because you never know when you’ll need them. And I know that that is that sounds very transactional. 


Myles E. Johnson: And Southern. I love it. 


Raquel Willis: And very southern, but I do try to live that way like I do try to be respectful of folks, um and friendly and open and warm and I mean, and some of that is also just I think my position and community now is like a yelder, a youth elder, a young elder, um because people be trying to Auntie me every day honey. [laughter] But I think that that’s true. And and especially in movement, because so many of us are working in similar spaces, we got to figure out how to let the work and the mission and the values connect us, even if we don’t really mess with the person. Right?


Myles E. Johnson: Right, right, right, right.


Raquel Willis: Because we’re not going to love everyone. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: Right? But I don’t have to be good [?] with someone to see, oh, we have similar values or we believe in in certain things that should happen collectively, and I need– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: –to be able to work with them so. 


Right. And there’s a difference between loving and enjoying. Right. Like loving has [laughter] like a, loving has like a political when I think about Martin Luther King, Bell Hooks. Loving is a political, [?] political frame that we can put to it and enjoying somebody– 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: –is totally different. I’m like, I already know who I come from. Like my mother is a Black lesbian woman. My sister has, shares a birthday with Nicki Minaj, so I grew up around a lot of uh un uh joy [laugh] joy and bold women. 


Raquel Willis: Oh. 


Myles E. Johnson: But at the end of the day, it really was about that love framework and about, okay, this person is good at this, this person is good at this, you know, or here’s this common goal. Let’s like go go there. And I think that that I love that I love, love, love, love that piece of advice. What do you say to the people that are giving up um hope in this moment? Um. They read your book. They’ve um fought in the streets, online, anywhere they can and still haven’t seen change, um the change that they want. What would you say to those people? 


Raquel Willis: Well, my baseline advice is learn from our ancestors and transcestors. Um. Undoubtedly they did not get everything that they desired in life. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right.


Raquel Willis: But one of the calls of of our lives is to figure out how to build some type of liberation into it. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: Even if it’s not this kind of grand idea of what liberation is. Um and leave the door open for next generations. Like that is a duty and a responsibility I think that we have. Right. And that pulls us out of that kind of like harmful individualism that I think the US culture and capitalism instills in us. And white supremacy and all these all these different things, all of these ideas of scarcity. So I– 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: I think that’s what that’s my baseline advice. I think the other things are or maybe just one more thing. It’s just grace. 


Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 


Raquel Willis: I think we have to give each other a lot more grace, I think, and especially for folks that we are somewhat aligned with politically and and values wise, like there’s a lot of like purity checking around how people navigate these systems of oppression. And that doesn’t mean, you know, accountability is something that’s thrown away. But I I think that we just don’t give each other enough grace. Like there’s so much going on in this moment. We have to be prudent and clear about where our energy needs to be directed. 


Myles E. Johnson: I 100% agree with that [?] 100% and I think that is the thing about leaning on the left and being in these Black queer circles and child Black queer in New York circles. It’s so cannibalistic. And I’m like, if you knew how much anything goes in these other circles that are against us, I’m like, I think we will have a different relationship with how we do things. Um. And, and, and and and what and again, transgressing boundaries and and teaching people and pedagogy, all those things are essential, but they’re the way how cannibalistic we can be through what you’re like naming, that kind of purity politics where I’m like, A it’s not sustainable. But then also um it’s it’s it’s so disempowering and it’s almost the exact opposite of what the people the other people do. And it’s one of the reasons why they be winning the election sometimes. [laughter] So the question um that I wanted to fit in, that I want to fit in with my larger questions was, um just I feel immensely proud of you, I guess, because I like read the book and I’m watching the interviews and I feel so proud of you and I and I was like, ah I wonder how she would answer this question, but what do what do you think your dad would say about this moment that you’re having?


Raquel Willis: What do I think my dad would say? I think my dad would be proud. I think there would be a shock, at least initially, that I would be so revealing about my experience, but I think he would understand at this point in my life, because a lot of my life has been not letting secrets silence me. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right, right. 


Raquel Willis: Or disempower me. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. 


Raquel Willis: Like I had to come to a realization that the things I feel like are my vulnerabilities or my liabilities actually are my superpowers. 


Myles E. Johnson: Definitely. Definitely.


Raquel Willis: And I think that he would get that. 


Myles E. Johnson: Definitely. 


Raquel Willis: In this in this point in my life. 


Myles E. Johnson: Definitely. And, you know, as a unabashed woo woo hoodoo good girl. So I definitely believe ancestors are present and around us and communing with us and guiding us and maybe having us do things that in the flesh, you’re like, this contradicts who you were when you’re in the body. I don’t know, like, I just see so much of who you are and the vulnerability and um I don’t know just watching your speech with the book and thinking about like, oh, like having more contextualization to who you are as a person. 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. 


Myles E. Johnson: And and how shy you were and quiet you are and seeing there, I’m like, not only do I think that he would be here and be um, you know, proud of you, I, I truly, in my heart believe he is here and proud of you. And I believe that he’s like one, anytime you are nervous and he’s you feel settled or you feel a wave of confidence, I truly think that’s his spirit, because you can see it on you that you’re so supported. And again, I’m just proud of you. I’m really, really, just really– 


Raquel Willis: Thank you. 


Myles E. Johnson: –really, really, really proud of you. And I’m just grateful to be able to share um this moment with you. Um. Let the audience know how they can um, how they can stay in touch where they can hit you up at? 


Raquel Willis: Yeah. Um. RaquelWillis.com r-a-q-u-e-l-w-i-l-l-i-s um, I have this book out honey, we’ve been talking about the risk it takes to bloom on life and liberation, the audio book will be out soon. Um. And I also, I’m an executive producer over at iHeart Media for the Out Spoken Podcast Network. So I’m hosting two podcasts. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. 


Raquel Willis: In 2024, one that’s already out. 


Myles E. Johnson: Okay. 


Raquel Willis: The full season is Afterlives, which follows the life of Layleen Polanco, a 27 year old Afro-Latina trans woman who died in Rikers custody in 2019. And then– 


Myles E. Johnson: Wow. 


Raquel Willis: The second show is Queer Chronicles, which follows the experiences of queer and trans youth in red states. So. 


Myles E. Johnson: Wow. I love that. 


Raquel Willis: This is where we are now so [laughing] follow is a lot of work, let me tell ya. 


Myles E. Johnson: Right. [laugh] I love that, I love that. [music break]


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Don’t forget to follow us at @crookedmedia on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. And if you enjoyed this episode of Pod Save the People, consider dropping us a review on your favorite podcast app 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 Vasilis Fotopoulos. Executive produced by me. And special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles E. Johnson. [music break]