In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, De’Ara and Kaya cover the underreported news of the week— including Oklahoma State Board of Education downgrading Tulsa schools accreditation over implicit bias training, nursing homes suing friends and family to collect on patient bills, Beyoncé pays homage to historical figures on the Renaissance album, while superstar Kelis accuses Beyoncé of disrespect. DeRay interviews author and historian Professor Robin D.G. Kelley about his new book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, De’Ara, Kaya, and Myles talking about the news that you don’t know from the past week, the under-reported news, and this week we even focus a little on Beyoncé. And then I sit down and talk to Professor Robin Kelley to talk about his new book, “Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination.” We talk about his work as a Black historian, his experience documenting the ongoing struggle for Black liberation, and I learned a lot. There were pieces of history in this book that I was like, I wish I read this during the protests. Here we go. My advice for this week is to try to find those historical pieces about liberation. I learned so much in Professor Kelley’s book, the way that other activists long before I was even somebodies dream or idea, have fought. And so much of it I wish I had learned earlier, but all of it comes in due time. So I’d say pick a piece of history and learn that, is my advice for this week. Here we go.
De’Ara Balenger: Family! Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @dearabalenger.
Myles Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @pahroahrapture.
Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter @hendersonkaya.
DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay, @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: She’s done it again.
Myles Johnson: Boom, boom, boom.
De’Ara Balenger: She has done it again.
Myles Johnson: Boom, boom. I’m trying to do, I’m trying to do little disco sounds. Boom, boom.
De’Ara Balenger: Beyoncé Knowles Carter. Renaissance. It’s spectacular, it’s amazing. It’s all the things. There’s every type of version of house music while paying homage to all the people that you need to pay homage to with the house music. I saw a beautiful tribute to her Uncle Johnny, who I then just started going into a deep hole about on everybody’s Instagram that posted him. But anyway, just what are your thoughts about Beyoncé, about this album, about the phenomenal, The Queen, the Bee? I’m really into it. I wish that I was home in the States though, because I feel like it would be everywhere, and it’s not quite everywhere yet in Europe, but hopefully that will change when I get to countries that have substantial Black populations. Well, there’s nowhere substantial here with a Black population but you know what I mean.
Myles Johnson: Musical genius. Like a brilliant, like I love Beyoncé because I love Black artists in general. Like, if you’re Black and you’re an artists, I’m usually on your side until you mess up, and I’m like, usually really warm and protective, but Beyoncé, she’s so talented that it kind of makes me mad sometimes. I’m like, Why would you do that? She’s hitting runs and she’s hitting notes–I’m like, why would you go and do that like that and say that? And it’s just like she has this intuitive gift. Of course she can sing. Of course she can, she has good [unclear] and stuff like that, but she has this beautiful, intuitive gift just to know what a song needs. Because of course, when you heard the lyrics on Move, you needed to tap Grace Jones, and of course, after Heated, you need to go and go in a full, like [unclear] ballroom chant. And I’m like, ’cause it’s like, of course, like the bare technique talent in there, but that intuitive gift to say, now this is going to get you mad, this is what’s going to get them up out of their seats. And being in New York and being in my 30s and going to my friend’s house the day before yesterday that turned into yesterday, child, because–
Kaya Henderson: Because it was a Beyoncé listening party?.
Myles Johnson: ‘Cause queer people do not know when to go to bed when Beyoncé’s on. They don’t know when to stop. But it was just, I felt so blessed to be able to enjoy this music with my Black trans and Queer friends. And we got to, like, dance together and drink and, you know, yeah. It was just a really beautiful, heartwarming time to be like in an intimate environment with them experiencing this music. And it just felt like for us, because I feel like Beyoncé has always gave us like a wink wink and a nudge nudge–but today she said, Well, hold on. She just took the rainbow flag out and she said, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here. And it felt really good to me. Just genius, genius, genius, genius, body of work.
Kaya Henderson: I love it so far. I’m a ’70s baby and so grew up in the disco era and it evokes Sylvester for me and it evokes clearly Grace Jones, right? And that’s the kind of stuff that, like, you don’t hear much. And then I was a teenager during the House years, and so I was running downtown to all kinds of places, the Latin Quarter, The Underground, all kinds of places, the Shelter–I am a little too young for the [unclear].
DeRay Mckesson: Let them know you been there! Kaya said, I’ve been there!
Kaya Henderson: And so all of that, right, was like very nostalgic for me. But this felt so, like the songs feel like freedom to me, right? Like it is wild abandon. It is, you know, I feel like F’ing something up. It is like let it go, set it free. And I feel like we are at a moment in our history, our culture or whatever, where like this pressure cooker is about to explode and she is inviting us to let it go and set it free before it gets jiggy out here. And I feel like we need, this is, I’m only sad that it didn’t come out a little earlier this summer because we needed a whole summer full of this, right? We need all of this. All of it.
Myles Johnson: I’m of the mind that you need to, that you need to put out some dance music and some sweat music actually, going into the winter, because that’s when the depression hits. So you need something that kind of gets you get you through that, too.
DeRay Mckesson: I what I love about Beyoncé is that as much as we joke about her being a hermit and not doing interviews and not talking to people and not being at events, it is so cool because you can tell that she’s not riding the wave of what is trendy or what is hot in the moment or what the TikTok thing is. She’s saying like, This is what I believe, this is what I feel and this is what I think music is and should be, and this is where I think music should go. And I love that about her. I love that about her art. You know, it’s so fun to, some of the people that I saw commenting on it were like, I guess Beyoncé is a rapper now, again–and you’re like, Beyoncé’s whatever she wants to be. Right? And that was great. The thing that made me teary was, it was in the first announcement being like, This is dedicated to our godmother, Uncle Johnny. You’re like, Okay, who is Uncle Johnny? Godmother? You’re like, [unclear]. That was before the album come comes out. The album comes out, and then Miss Tina posts that note about Uncle Johnny being her best friend, her ride or die, made Beyoncé’s prom dress. Beyoncé gave a shout out to Uncle Johnny at the end of one of the songs, Bevy, if you know Bevy, Bevy posted herself in one of the Uncle Johnny dresses. And it was such a beautiful ode to her Uncle Johnny, and then all of the Black gay men that we lost to HIV and AIDS in that era who helped define a culture, who did so many incredible things, who were the artists and the culture-keepers and the uncles and aunties, and we lost them. And I felt like this was an homage to them as well. And, and reading Miss Tina’s post was like a it was like a remembrance to me in that way.
De’Ara Balenger: So yeah, staying on the Beyoncé theme–and also just because this gave me so much joy, like even thinking about it and talking about it, I’m getting chills all over again–but, also want to know like who, is Beyoncé her own researcher? Does she have researchers, and how’s that work for her? Because how did she find this YouTube of Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, who is the founder of National Black Theater? And we talked about, we’ve talked about National Black Theater before, based in Harlem, currently run now by Dr. Teer’s daughter, Sade Lythcott. And in the context most recently talked about National Black Theater is that they you know they are in co-production at The Public now with Fat Ham that’s won a Pulitzer. It’s amazing, all the things. But what Beyoncé did was sample some of this talk that Dr. Barbara Ann Teer was doing that’s on YouTube. And so she basically pulled her, she pulled this sample of her speech–and this is the song Alien Superstar–and it’s the words “We dress a certain way, we walk a certain way, we talk a certain way, we pay a certain way, we make love a certain way, you know? All of these things we do in a different, unique, specific way that is personally ours”. And so when I heard those words, I was like–well, when I heard her voice, I was like, Oh, my gosh, that voice sounds so familiar. And it was kind of, you know, egging on me. I kept thinking about it, and then I was like, You know who that is? That is Sade’s mama. And which is just wild. Like, the legacy of Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in terms of Black culture, preserving Black culture, protecting Black culture, but also protecting Black love, radical Black love and Black bodies–and the fact that Beyoncé has done this repeatedly with her music and now has kind of directly paid homage to this incredible, incredible woman who did so much to shape Black theater, it just is completely overwhelming, ya’ll. This is our friend’s mama on Beyoncé’s song. So I was just so happy and pleased to hear this, and just continued love and support to National Black Theater. And if y’all don’t know about them, get to know them.
Myles Johnson: No. And that’s like one of the best, like, all the songs are great, but I think Alien Superstar is one of those songs that, like everybody agreed was like a fantastic song. And I love that Beyoncé, child I’m so–and I love the woman who I’m about to name–but I am so tired of people trying to deepen their songs and like using the same Nina Simone no-fear quote in the same Toni Morrison quote, and I’m so glad that Beyoncé’s like, You know what, there are some more people who said some more things and that makes me happy that she–and people who are living too. T.S. Madison, of course was also used inside of the album too. It makes me it makes me happy. So because I love, I love critical thought and I’ve been like this, I’ve been like this since I’ve, well, definitely known y’all, but probably knows this the most about me, is I love loving something, and like taming my love of something by being objective. And I don’t, I just feel like it keeps me grounded. But anyhow, Kelis, one of my–I love Kelis, first of all, Kelis when it comes to R&B innovation, when it comes to style innovation, when it comes to performance innovation, she is just really one of those artists that opened the doors for a specific type of expression and a specific type of maneuvering through like, the industry, of course, [unclear] caught out there and her streaming on the track and her having such punk and funk influences in her music. And then, of course, I also think about even like songs like Bossy, that kind of were the first echoes of that kind of trapin be rap sound that came out. And even when you look at reviews of–I’m such a geek–but even when you look at reviews of Gwen Stefani’s Love Angel Music Baby and Fergie’s the Duchess Album, Kelis’s Tasty album which has Milkshake on it was noted as the first album to be that kind of retro, talky, flirty pop moment that a lot of people were using as the blueprint for their albums, including getting producers like The Neptunes to recreate those albums, or those sounds for her. And even Ariana Grande with Sweetener has revisited that sound and noted as the reference point for that. So I say as this to say Kelis has definitely definitely definitely added a lot to the culture. And Kelis got on Instagram, she got real mad and she got upset and she basically say, you know, Beyoncé and Pharrell took my song and I didn’t get the courtesy of getting to, I did not get the courtesy of knowing that my song was going to be used in this album. And of course she lets us know that she doesn’t own her masters, so technically nothing illegal happened, however, she feels because they are both peers and they’ve known each other and they run in similar circles and in what not, that courtesy felt more like a dig. And then, you know, I’m a deep listener–and also she says that she feels as though Pharrell purposefully used that sample of Milkshake as a dig to Kelis as well, which made me feel–listen, you can never, this is such a perspective thing, you know? And I don’t know if, like, that just feels really vindictive for Beyoncé. And, you know, I don’t think my fandom will ever let me see Beyoncé as purposely doing that, but not as big as a fan of Pharrell, so I can see him doing it. And I really get sad about Kelis. I don’t know how loud she has to yell because she yelled really loud with her interview about Nas and about her getting physically abused about Nas, and it feels like that didn’t say anything. And she’s been really vocal about the Neptunes and her being exploited as a young teenage girl when it comes to her contract. And that didn’t shake anything. And now what I’m hearing her say is there’s this person who is presented as a certain way who does things publicly in order to torment her via these moments because of a background in them dating and them having a little bit of jealousy and personal things happening and this is the way that he maneuvers publicly in order to hurt Kelis’s feelings. And I think my conclusion is I think that–I know it probably won’t happen because Beyoncé doesn’t have, this is not where she’s apparently, talking back to people–but I would love for her to have extended or correct this with Kelis because I think would have been so powerful. And I do think because we talked about Beyoncé now having this #MeToo, like in order for you to be on her album you have to like clear this like #MeToo process now and all this other stuff, and I think that, you know, this is a moment to really exercise and to really be an example of the empowerment that that you’re behind. And, yeah, it’s a weird story. It’s obviously it was like one of the bigger controversial things, and again, you can’t really come to any conclusions about it, just really all this like your opinions of what you want to happen–but also I think that it’s just interesting to me that Kelis’s is one of those voices who’s super influential, but when it comes to her talking about some of the biggest men in hip hop, she just seems to not be able to get any friction on people caring in a soulful way.
DeRay Mckesson: I hadn’t remembered actually the whole moment of Kelis talking about Nas. Like I remember it now when you brought it up. I was like, That was a moment. But you’re right, it didn’t have an impact. And I find it hard to believe that Beyoncé would do that intentionally just because, like, you know, she put everybody name. If you breathed on the track, you on a lot–you know, like it gives very “no drama, don’t want a drama, I know I’m good at what I do.” So it is unfortunate that it became this. What I will say about Kelis and my friend who was once my college classmate VenusX who helped with the House scene in New York and ghetto gothic and all this stuff, she made a couple of posts about it too, and it was a reminder of like shout out to the weird kids, shout out to the the counterculture, the kids throwing parties in the basements, and the weird scenes and the dark lights, and the da, da, da, because they become the people that shaped the things later. And I remember when Kelis was like the bizarre, weird like, who’s that girl? They don’t do that on TV. And she was, and she was that girl for a lot of people, and helped to popularize that music. And I think that that is what the album also is an homage to, is so many people that were icons in like Ballroom or House, like these, these scenes that were underground in the mainstream world for a while, or voices that weren’t seen as so prominent and they got leverage here. I am hopeful, too, that her and Beyoncé, they can have a conversation. And do more research on the Neptunes and Pharrell and that whole backstory. And I will say something about Dr. Teer–when I heard that that message from Dr. Teer on the album, De’Ara too, it was like, Who was up in the middle of the night on YouTube. Like, what were you typing? Black people, positive, old messages, you know, like that was a deep-cut message of Dr. Teer to find, you know? Ao I appreciate that. And Myles, I think you’re right is that we hear the same for quotes over and over and over, or a little picture of Harriet Tubman, and then you’re like, Okay, okay, we get it, we get it, you listened during Black History Month in middle school, too–and this is a reminder that art can do different things. I love this post. Did you see SZA’s post was like, got me rethinking my whole, everything. And you’re like, Yes, SZA. And what SZA said, just so everybody knows, “Me rethinking my entire creative process after being free from monotonous sonic bondage by Beyoncé.”
Myles Johnson: Yeah, that’s what it, definitely, what it really it should do, because, child, how people are afraid of making albums, but SZA’s really good–like I love Control. I think that was one of the better R&B albums of like the last few years. But I hope a lot of people feel embarrassed about music after this.
DeRay Mckesson: That wasn’t what I thought you were doing to say.
Myles Johnson: No, because I thin, because the music’s so fun and so sassy, right? And it’s so like, and it’s sexy and it’s all these different things. And I think that, like, it also shows you could be all those different things and have fun and still respect the craft of making music. And I think that there’s been some musical integrity that has gone to the wayside for people who have a lot of access to make really great music if they just–
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Kaya, what you got?
Kaya Henderson: I loved, I mean, like as I’ve said before, this, it feels like freedom, but like it also it feels like blackness, right? Like all aspects of blackness. There’s some church, there’s some trap, there’s some like old, there’s some new, there’s like all of us in all of our glory. And I think that the Barbara Ann Teer quote is so beautiful because it just captures–like I mean DeRay, that the thing that you say all the time that I absolutely love is, “I love my blackness and yours.” Like I love being Black. And this quote just says it all, right, like we do everything Blackety Black, and that’s what makes us alien superstars. And I like, just the whole concept. Like, you know, I’m obsessed with teaching young people that, like, we are magnificent–not this trope that, you know, we’re lazy, we’re poor, we’re blah, blah, blah–like we are overcomers, we are resilient, we are joyful, we are brilliant, we have done all of these things. And I think the spirit of that is what is caught up in this album for me. And we are a little messy too, right, like and so of course there’s going to be some family feuding, because it wouldn’t be Black if there wasn’t some family feuding. So to me, all of this just continues to encapsulate and signify like blackness in all of our dimensions. And I’m here for it all.
De’Ara Balenger: Just the last thing I’ll say on the piece that what is interesting to me is that she is not credited on this iconic song. She was 24-years old when she made it. It’s one of the most licensed songs ever. What was happening in that paperwork with Pharrell, with–I forget the, I mean it was Star Trak Entertainment.
Myles Johnson: Chad Hugo, the Neptunes.
De’Ara Balenger: Chad Hugo, and I think she was on Arista or something. But anyway, she didn’t make any money off of Milkshake, except for touring.
Kaya Henderson: But you know how this goes. That’s not, that’s not odd. That’s not, right?
De’Ara Balenger: I know.
Kaya Henderson: That is actually standard for young Black folks in the music industry. And sometimes it’s our own folks who do it to us. I mean–
De’Ara Balenger: I just never thought of Pharrell as Puff Daddy. [laughter] Really breaking my heart.
Myles Johnson: Can’t stop, won’t stop. All the videos. Yeah, I think that’s what was sad about it, too, because Diddy was a little bit of like, I’m from Harlem. You already know what time it is. Like, it’s say but whatever when you hear rumors.
Kaya Henderson: You didn’t expect Virginia Beach, Norfolk, whatever, the Tidewater
De’Ara Balenger: I mean, the tickets for that concert in D.C. were $300 each.
Myles Johnson: But you cried with Oprah and talked about manifesting and the power of positive thinking. I’m like, whoa, whoa, hold on–
Kaya Henderson: He manifests a whole lot of coins right out from under Kelis.
Myles Johnson: I’m like, you ain’t never have a, I have a meditation session that said gve that money back because I think that’s the way, that’s the, that will be–
De’Ara Balenger: Seriously. Home girl living on a farm outside of L.A.. What’s really —
Myles Johnson: But I also just think that like yes, it’s, like the music business is full of sharks and full of bad contracts. And I think I love that Black people are getting more power in that business. It makes me really sad when Black people decide just to be a vehicle to do the same thing that would have been done to us. I think it would be a super radical thing–and I know it’s hard–but I think it would be so dope to, for Kelis to have said that and Pharrell be like, You know what? I like I’m not doing this anymore. And to do something in help of Kelis, and to really do it. And even though she might be mad, even though she might be like, I took you long enough, or whatever she does, it’ll be so cool to see an example of somebody saying, Yeah, this is the standard, but actually, here’s your stuff back. In the same way when I think about how Chase the rapper, helped Anita Baker get her licenses back. Like, why, like, why not just be like, You know what. I’ve grown? Whatever the excuses are, the reason is–and here is me doing the right thing. I think that would be just utterly powerful. And, you know, my Mo’Nique Netflix bone is tingling. around this. [laughter] I would like to see it.
DeRay Mckesson: This di make me think about Mo’Nique, and I was like. I was like, I know, Myles, I can hear already. The speech coming.
Myles Johnson: Oh my goodness.
DeRay Mckesson: Here it is.
Myles Johnson: You already know, an underdog Black woman who’s loud and angry, oh, gosh. You’ve got a friend and a cot in me. If you ever need a pallet and a meal, come to me.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
Kaya Henderson: My news this week is about the continued dismantling of the public education system that is happening all over the United States. It is really astounding to watch every week, some new news story that talks about, what I think, is sheer madness around what is happening in public education. And this week’s craziness comes from the state of Oklahoma and deals specifically with Tulsa Public Schools, which is probably one of the most diverse districts in Oklahoma. And another district call Mustang Public Schools near Oklahoma City. And both of these districts were basically reprimanded by the Oklahoma State Board of Education, who voted this week to downgrade the accreditation of these two school systems to “accredited with warning.” So you could be accredited, you could be accredited with deficiency, you could be accredited with warning–and then I guess whatever else after that is, you are unaccredited. But the reason that these two school districts were downgraded is because the governor passed, the governor and state legislature last May, passed House Bill number 1775, which restricts discussions of race and sex in public schools. It’s one of these pieces of legislation targeting critical race theory. And a teacher in Tulsa Public Schools raised her hand and said, I went to a training. The training was 20 minutes, and it was about implicit bias. And she says she went to a training that felt like it was shaming white people, made her feel badly, and she complained to the state. And that one teacher complaint resulted in the school district’s accreditation being downgraded. Mustang public school is even more curious. They were like, oh, oops, our bad. We had a training that we think, you know, didn’t actually follow the law, and we’re calling you to tell you like, we recognize this, we’re going to do something better. They were like, Yeah, downgrade for you too.
DeRay Mckesson: Kaya. Your story-telling, Kaya, is the best.
Kaya Henderson: I mean, I’m so appalled. Literally, one teacher can call and imperil an entire public school system. Meanwhile, the teacher who called the police on the people, she was investigated earlier this year for proselytizing in class. She also ran for the state senate. I guess she didn’t win. On her campaign website, she said that as a Tulsa Public Schools teacher, she has witnessed “spiritually damaging programs, liberal brainwashing, and political indoctrination being slipped into our schools.” So clearly this is a teacher with an agenda, right? I’m not saying it’s right or wrong or otherwise–but it’s a teacher with an agenda, who, as a result of attending this 20-minute training, got the whole school district downgraded. And the state board of Education feels like it’s really important to send the message that these people are deliberately flouting the law. And, you know, I find this to be really dicey in Tulsa, right, which is the site of one of the worst racial massacres in our country. The whole reason for the Tulsa–it is called the Tulsa Race Riot. How do you teach that if you don’t talk about why the white people burn down Black Wall Street without getting in trouble with the law? And so we’re just at a point in our world where these right-wing folks are literally–and we talk about curtailing accurate historical teaching, but this is far more dangerous than that. This is not just about what’s being taught. You know, once school districts start getting downgraded in their accreditation, that affects budgets, that affects all kinds of things. And it’s not lost on me that the most diverse school district, one of the most diverse school districts in the state of Oklahoma now is in trouble and can’t teach because of this bill and because this one teacher made a complaint. And so add to that, you know, the Florida law, which allows military folks to teach without a credential, add to that these two mega-donors in Texas who have been pushing a right0wing agenda, who are very clear about their desire to dismantle public education. Add to that people pushing for prayer in schools again, add to that–I don’t know, there was one other thing I can’t remember–oh, Arizona, where you don’t even need a bachelor’s degree to teach anymore. And I just can’t help but I mean, I don’t know if people are connecting the dots, but there is a full frontal assault on traditional public education by a group of people who want to keep folks ignorant about what is happening, about what has happened and what is going to happen. And this is, I mean, our democracy was already imperiled, but you look at, you know, what the Soviets are doing with– Russia, I guess they’re called Russia now–is doing in the Ukraine, and we’re doing it to ourselves here, y’all. Y’all better lock up your women and children because it’s about to be on.
DeRay Mckesson: I’ll say, you know, in thinking of the news that you had a week ago about the military families in Florida being able to just teach, my sister, who’s a principal, she and I were talking yesterday. She was like, DeRay, I can’t believe that families–I was like, Yeah, we covered it on the pod. She was like, I saw it on TikTok too. She was like some teachers were talking about, they would sit next to a wife of somebody in the military who like was like, What, what is phonics? Explain to me. She’s like, What am I going to do as a principal with some people who like, don’t even know basics? And that made me think of that. But the second thing, Kaya, and I think about, you know, when we talk about the attack on public education, there are a lot of people, definitely people who listen to the pod who are like, That’s wrong, that’s wild. But also aren’t organized. Like there’s not a vessel for them to organize. And I’ll just say, I just voted, in Baltimore we’re going to have a, we’re going to have two elected members of the school board–and I’m against elected school boards because I’ve seen them in action and nightmare, nightmare–but it’s coming in Baltimore, and it’s here. So I’m like, so I get to the booth and I realize I just don’t know enough about these people. I’m like, it’s ten people. Like, I’m like, and I’m this is my work. I care about it and I’m like, out of the loop. And I can only imagine if I don’t know, then what the average voter knows about any of this stuff. Right? And I think about just in Baltimore, where I was super involved, I worked in the school system, da, da, da–it still was like, wow, I know why we don’t have air conditioners in every building or why we can’t afford heaters and da, da, da– but we really do need to start the basic organizing around some of this stuff so that we can get people engaged who aren’t engaged because the only people–the city right now, we are getting real people running–but a lot of these elections you get like the wild, wild west, these racist governors are appointing really crazy people on these boards, and our kids are the ones who suffer, because their kids don’t even go to these schools.
De’Ara Balenger: I would just say on the Tulsa piece–Tulsa, Tulsa, Tulsa–so Tulsa has the highest Black maternal mortality rate in the country. So we know Black women die four times as much as white women, 4 to 1, with the same symptoms, but in Tulsa, it’s even significantly higher than that. So I bring that up to say that, you know, it makes sense to me that, you know, humanizing our children and the history of so many of the descendants of Tulsa in particular wouldn’t matter to folks in a city where Black babies don’t matter to folks, Black mothers don’t matter to folks. So I think it makes sense to me, Kaya, but I think that doesn’t make it more, less sad or troubling. It’s a crisis. I think this is a crisis in our country. I think it stems from how we discount and devalue Black bodies, Black families, Black mothers, Black babies, and this is just an extension of that.
Myles Johnson: Like, the story is so ridiculous, and when I think about it further, it makes me wonder, like, what’s the, like what, like, when does it stop? Like, to me, even like the law, as you were like talking about, it is so vague about things that make you feel uncomfortable or make you feel like you’re to blame or whatever. I’m like, if you’re a history teacher and doing history right and you’re white, you probably should feel a little guilty, a little uncomfortable. That’s probably about the right feeling. Certain discourse around history should make a white person feel, even if you’re just talking about it objectively. And then to think that, like, in order to, like, talk about, like, implicit bias and make sure that you’re not perpetuating that, you could lose your accreditation or get a downgrading your accreditation–it really feels like a slippery, I mean, the slope is slippery and we are obviously sliding, but it it feels really, I guess it’s like poignantly–I’m trying not to use too extreme of a word, I don’t want to be too dramatic about it–but it feels, it gets really scary when you’re able to control education like that with such vague language, and that is already being implemented. It gets really scary when you’re able to do that and when you see it happen. That’s what I’ll say.
DeRay Mckesson: My news is about nursing homes. I honestly had no clue this was a thing. So is was a reporter at NPR and the title is, “Nursing homes are suing friends and family to collect on patients bills” So just to start off, this is illegal, but people don’t know. So when people pass away who live in nursing homes, what is happening is that if you are not legally responsible for them, but you’re like a friend, a cousin, family or a neighbor, and you go sign them into the nursing home, they will put clauses in the admissions paperwork that essentially says that you are responsible financially for them, for their bills, or you become a responsible party. And it’s buried in the small print and these things, but it’s really wild. So they’re these stories of family of friends, family members, like no legal responsibility for people in nursing homes, who are suddenly saddled with up to $100,000 of debt from the nursing homes. And as you can imagine, most of the people impacted by this are poor. So when they get a bill for $10,000 or $7,000 or $5,000, they actually can’t afford a lawyer to litigate this. So, you know, the article goes on to talk about a big chunk of these are default, because the person doesn’t come to court or doesn’t reply, you know, or the person just doesn’t know how to maneuver the system. And if they had lawyers, they would likely be able to get out of most of these because there is federal legislation that makes this illegal. But again, most people just get caught up in it, and you see the way that, like this is another way that medical debt impacts people’s lives in a way that literally I did not know was a thing. And I wanted to bring you here, because as you can imagine, Black and brown and poor people are the most impacted. And I just, it really boggles my mind that you can be like a really good neighbor and go help your neighbor get into a nursing home and then be saddled with their medical bills or their debt at the end. So wanted to bring that here, because it really blew my mind.
Myles Johnson: Yeah, the scam is real. Like, like, these story–it’s so funny to go from talking about Beyoncé and then get, like, instantly grounded into two of the biggest–I guess what I have more to ask is like, more of like a question; What is the right to the people who this is happening to, since it is illegal? Like, what can, how is that being addressed?
DeRay Mckesson: They can litigate, they can defend themselves in court. They can, yeah, they can defend themselves in court. But some people will just plead out, you know, like people plead to crimes all the time. So they like, plead, because they think that they’re responsible. You’re like, Ah!
Myles Johnson: Oh, right, right, right. Yeah. That’s all I have to add. I’m just socking that one in, child.
Kaya Henderson: And what’s so outrageous. I mean, first of all, nursing homes, I mean, that is, we could have a whole conversation about that–what they charge people, how they make you, they make the person literally give up all of their assets in order to come. And the whole thing is a little crazy. But like, the thing is, this is illegal, right? And yet and still they’re like, Look, we’re going to give it a shot. And the courts are like, Oh, well, the person didn’t show up, and so you get the money. In New York City, most people are $400 away from being yanked into poverty, according to the Robin Hood Foundation and a bunch of research that they’ve done, so when you get a $10,000 bill or a $7,000 bill that you don’t have, and you, I mean, you, first of all, you can’t afford a lawyer, let alone a $10,000 bill. And so it seems crazy to me that somebody can perpetuate a legal fraud–an illegal thing–can perpetuate a fraud, and use our legal system to enable them to collect on it, when the whole thing is illegal. How does that work? And how come, I don’t know somebody, how come the Justice Department isn’t going after these people the way you go after predatory mortgage lenders or all of these other folks? Like, this is outrageous. This is so crazy. People who are not even, you know, who don’t have any, any responsibility, any financial responsibility–this is disgusting, is what it is. And these nursing homes and the people who are filing these lawsuits should rot, you know, somewhere in the bowels of wherever. It’s disgusting. This is terrible.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week we welcome author Professor Robin Kelley on to chat about his book “Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination.” Now, I had known Professor Kelley’s essays, but I did not know his books until I was preparing for the podcast. And this book in particular was just incredible. A fascinating book about Black migration, reparations, feminist theory, so much more. And I learned. I hope that you learn, too. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: Professor Kelley, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Professor Robin Kelley: Yeah, thanks, thanks for having me.
DeRay Mckesson: So I’m excited to talk to you because I think about all of the things I wish I’d read while we were in the streets in 2014 and ’15 and ’16. And I did not know your work then. I was, you know, we doing a lot of other things. And then I started to read your work, I’m like, Oh, I wish I had read this when I was getting tear-gassed. I wish I had known these histories and da, da, da. And we’re here to talk about the latest book coming out, but I’d love to start with a little bit about you and what brought you to this field of study, Black people movements–how did you get here?
Professor Robin Kelley: Well, that’s a good question. I’m first of all, I’m an old person. And I have lived through so many cycles of these struggles and watched with great pride as people ,especially, I know that, you emerged, especially around Ferguson and that that rebellion, which is so amazing to think that’s like eight years ago, right? But, you know, I grew up in Harlem and in California in the ’60s and early ’70s, came of political age, really in the 19-late ’70s and ’80s. So you got to realize that this is, being a child of the ’60s, having lived in Harlem as a kid and heard soap box speakers on the corner, witnessed the Black Panther Free Breakfast program, seen the prospects of revolution in the streets, in the homes, in schools, struggles for community control of education–things like that. I mean, that’s the world I grew up in as a small child, and moving out to California in the late ’70s and seeing the downside, you know, what was lost in that moment, that revolutionary moment of the late ’60s, early ’70s, and to see, you know, PCP, see later in the ’80s, the emergence of crack cocaine, the collapse of social organizations and movements–at least that’s what appeared to be. And so by the time I get to college at Long Beach State University, which is a state university, back in the days when we actually had public institutions, where the fees were $90 a semester–I know it’s hard to believe, right–I got this amazing education in Black studies from various activists, you know, who really kind of took me under their wing, and also in history, and through my sister, especially my older sister, Makani Themba, who is the founder of Praxis Project.org, longtime organizer who really tutored me in my mother, you know, wanted to try to understand and spend my life devoted to understanding the way that unsung people, ordinary people, working-class people made history, defended themselves, created institutions to survive, and refused to accept the terms of white supremacy and capitalism, you know? And so that’s really my roots and that connection to African-American history with an understanding of the broader world, reading people like Walter Rodney, understanding how Europe under-developed Africa and also becoming at that time something of a marxist, to try to understand the class dimensions and the gendered dimensions of our oppression and our struggle–that shaped the work I was doing at the time in my early scholarship, my early activism.
DeRay Mckesson: One of the things that you do in the new forward to the book, or the [unclear] and then you talk about later and that is woven throughout the history is you help us understand sort of the key players and the people who did the things and all those things. One of–this is a push to understand, not a push to challenge–one of the things that I’d love to hear you talk about and one of the things that I have, one of the things that I have not loved about the historians–you’re one of the few historians of Black history that I have, I have a lot of people on the pod about other things, but you actually studied movements and stuff like that–is that I really worry, Professor Kelly, about the way that we don’t tell history of like the everyday people who did the crazy thing that led to the thing. So the thing that I wanted to ask you about is that even in the way that I saw you contextualize this moment is that I know all, I was there, we were on the street, it was wild, and I will tell you that like all of the big organizing collectives, they came to Ferguson–none of them were up for it. It was like they put us, one big organizer group came and they were like–we’re getting tear gassed, and they’re like, Let us show you how to power map. And we’re like, They’re tear gassing, the power map literally doesn’t matter, right, they’re like tear gassing us. And I think about having lived through that, it was that like even the best of us organizer who became organize–like, none of us were trained, we were just out there–there was like a spontaneity in the streets that was really, that was more powerful than any meeting we ever had, and I’m interested in how we honored that, too.
Professor Robin Kelley: Right. Right. Well, you know, there’s of course, there are always organizations, especially in the 21st century, that are, that helicopter, that parachute in, you know, and these are organizations, there are always organizations that have that depended on funders–you know, that’s not our tradition. That’s not our long tradition. But then, you know, when you think about what happened in in Ferguson, St Louis, you know, you entered into a space that had a history. You know, it’s not like everyone who was out there had never organized before. I mean, someone like Tef Poe, for example, had been trained with the Organization of Black Struggle, you know? The the Organization for Black Struggle is celebrating least 40 years of existence in Saint Louis. You know, Jamala Rodgers, and Jamala, of course, was one of the organizers of the Black Radical Congress. So it’s not as if there are not traditions that exist before that. That’s distinct from people who are trying to use, you know, newfangled language with back, you know, backing from funders. So I’m not saying that spontaneity doesn’t matter, but there’s a reason why people came out to the streets. It wasn’t just because of Michael Brown. It was because of all the Michael Browns that preceded that moment. It’s for all the people who’ve been driving around from a municipality to municipality being stopped by the police, being ticketed, and being, and having their wealth extracted from them by these municipalities and the police. You know, it’s that experience of having to pay fines for having overgrown lawns or for not, you know, for having expired license plates, right? You know, this kind of stuff. The accumulation of those things produce both the anger but also the discourse, all the conversations that people have. So I don’t I don’t disagree with you that there’s a lot of things that were not helpful at all. And, in fact, one of the arguments when I was there in October 2014, it was a big split between people who had been there in the streets, tired, not being supported, versus those people who were professional organizers who were trying to come and take things over. I mean, I don’t dispute that. You know, but I do think that part of the reason I wrote the book, Freedom Dreams, is to remind people, and especially for young people of that generation–keep in mind, you know, you have Michael Brown in 2014 and Eric Garner and others in 2000, 1999-2000 with Amadou Diallo, you know? So in other words, there are certain state-sponsored murders that generate, you know, activism in the streets. And Diallo was one of many, of many. And so when people came out, again, there’s the presumption that there was nothing like this before, it’s all unprecedented, is simply not true. Many people came with experience. Those experiences may not be marked or identified the same way, but we have a very long tradition, a tradition against state violence, a tradition demanding reparations, a tradition of Black feminism and against gendered violence and other things, and a tradition that doesn’t always look like the NAACP or the modern civil rights movement as we know it. The problem with historians, with a lot of history, is that we end up revisiting the same movements, the same organizations, all the time without actually looking at what’s happening on the ground. And so part of what the book tries to do is talk about those movements that we don’t always look at, like the Revolutionary Action Movement, for example, Combahee River Collective, National Black Feminist Organization, and all the movements from ENCOBRA to Queen Mother Moore in the fight for Reparations, The fight for land, is another one, that we have struggled not just to confront state power, but to flee, to get away, to get out of Dodge, to try to find some kind of space for ourselves–that goes back to Maronage, Maroon societies, going back to the days, of the early days of enslavement and capture, you know? So we’ve got to understand that history, to recognize that all the people that you ran into in those streets came with a certain kind of knowledge, you know, intellectual capital. You know, and part of that was that people coming together in the streets, in their homes, in community centers, were producing a theory of revolution, as you went along. And you know that, right, because you were there. So part of part of the argument, too, is that we don’t need to turn to some think–that ideas will come out of think tanks out of, you know, people with a lot of degrees who are just sort of thinking about things. Now, I’m not saying that doesn’t matter, but that’s not the driver of social theory. The driver of social theory, to try to figure out what’s next, what kind of world we want to build–that comes out of struggle. And so what you witness is the tradition, not necessarily a break from it. And what’s amazing is that I would argue that that is not the wild part. What’s wild to me is someone sitting in a room, getting a lot of money, writing up a position paper, or like basically in a room, tweeting all the time about what should be done. That’s wild. What’s not wild is people coming together to talk about and struggle together to figure out what to do. That, to me is just rational.
DeRay Mckesson: So I read it and I was like, I would love to hear him, this is one of the parts of the book–I don’t either, you know, this is like very much probably me not being a great reader–and I was like, I understand. The words made sense to me, but I was like, I don’t, there’s a part of it that I just don’t get. And I wanted to ask you about it. It is, “on the other hand, the very burden of racism nourished in a capitalist economy, built on the foundation of slavery and Jim Crow, weighed like a nightmare on the brains of every generation of white working people seeking emancipation. Remember that much of their identity was bound up not with being a [N-word], and savage, and uncivilized beast of burden, presumably easily controlled by their capitalist enemies.” What I didn’t, when you wrote the “white lefts inability to understand, let alone answer the Negro question” it was, I’m like, maybe I missed how you think of the negro question, or like I just missed, I missed it. I like, didn’t get it.
Professor Robin Kelley: Okay, so, no that’s a good question. So let me, let me go back. So the Negro question is not my invention. It is actually a left invention. So the idea that–and this goes back to 19th century–that, you know, we’re in an international class struggle, an international class struggle, especially one that takes off, let’s say in 1848–you know, we’re talking about sort of European and American working classes who are organized in this International Workingmen’s Association. This is the first international. So let’s step back for a second. When I talk about race as the Achilles heel, there were leftist internationalists–not all of them, but many of them–who either ignored the presence of Black workers or enslavement, or–it was actually impossible to ignore–or saw them as either an enemy to working-class struggles because slaves are taking jobs from white men who are basically landless, or that, on the other hand, the only position you could take as a working person is to fight for emancipation. Now, I don’t won’t go through this long, long history, but the idea of the Negro question is: how do we understand the class in a context in which you have racial subordination. Racial subordination has material consequences. That is to say, enslaved people, and after slavery formally ends, you have other forms of unfreedom, unfreedom in terms of sharecropping and tenant farming, unfreedom in terms of being paid lower wages for the same work or being denied certain work. Now, here’s the dilemma is that either the white working class–and I don’t want to say is like a unified, uniform, you know, undifferentiated mass people–but the white working class as a class has certain choices to make. One choice is to embrace the whole class, that is, every single person, no matter what they look like. If they are working people, if they don’t have means of production, if they’ll have land to survive on and they have to work for wages, that even breaks the whole class. Or, define the class in terms of whiteness. And that has been the dilemma. So when I talk about “weighs like a nightmare” this, it fundamentally says that racism has been the problem of class organization and class struggle. Racism is the fundamental problem. Now we take that for granted and say, Yes, of course it is–but here’s what we have inherited. Of course, we have a long history in the left, and part of that long history is always being told that if only these Black people could be more class conscious, put aside racism for a second, and join the class. I’m saying this flipped. You have to flip it. It’s that the anti-racism is fundamental on the part of the white working class in order for them to join the class. We’re already in the class. We’re already there. We’ve been there. We’ve been at the forefront. So part of the idea of the Negro question is taking the idea of what has been the internationalist white left using the idea of the Negro question and flipping it around–I’m saying, I put it in quotes, because it’s like an old conception. And so all I’m basically saying in that section is that if we’re going to challenge capitalism, don’t blame Black solidarity, LatinX solidarity, struggles of indigenous peoples, for not being class conscious–we have at the forefront. And let’s take that example to Ferguson. Because this is something you know and you’ve seen–a lot of white leftists, some very famous ones, said about Ferguson, Well, you know, those young people in the streets, they’re not really challenging capitalism. Right? That’s not true! Because the structure of violence in Saint Louis, and not just cities like Saint Louis or North County, but all over the country, has been one in which the police play a role of extracting, you know, value in subjugating people. So if the municipality of Ferguson is making 2 or $3 million off of poor people by ticketing them to death and then, you know, citing them and putting them in jail and taking away their kids and their property, you know, as a way to extract value, to keep that municipality going, and to paying them less money and not, you know, and the value of their property is not really going up by virtue of race–all of these things are ways in which when people came out on the street to fight the police, they’re fighting capitalism directly. They’re fighting it directly at the forefront of it. And all the white people who are standing on the sidelines or not showing up, who are saying, you know, I’m interested in the class struggle, not the race struggle–they don’t understand it. So part of that chapter is to insist that the Black communists have actually had an analysis of class that was far more sophisticated than what we think of as the mainstream Marxist left. That’s the argument I’m making. We’re at the forefront.
DeRay Mckesson: I learned a lot about all these historical parts of movement that I just literally didn’t. I was like, Okay, I should have read that a long time ago. There we go, professors professing and teaching. How do you see the Internet changing the contours of organizing and movement, given that you have studied so much of historical movement in the absence of the Internet?
Professor Robin Kelley: Well, there’s positive and negative, like anything. The positive, obviously, is the speed and scope of communication. You know, you can reach people faster. I mean, people can mobilize faster, ideas can circulate quicker. In theory, that’s a really good thing. But sometimes it has a downside. One downside is this notion that Internet activism is the same thing as organizing. That is to say, some people never have to leave their house because they’re signing this petition, they’re contacting people this way, they’re doing this–and, you know, and there’s nothing like actually talking to people. All of our most successful organizing efforts over the last couple of centuries have involved actual people coming together, connecting with one another, sharing emotions, sharing strategies, being able to read one another, being able to break down and get the comfort of somebody in the space. So there’s something about human contact and organizing and being in the streets that really does matter. The other thing, the other downside is that–how can I put it?–a lot of people are not patient, and there’s an impatience with Twitter and Instagram and other things, where you want the information or the direction in a very small chunk. And sometimes it requires time, space, reflection and actually reading, it sometimes requires debate to come up with–and also, you know, organizations sometimes need internal space to decide what their position is. If the debate is public, and it’s public and shaped by who has the most likes as if likes determine the value of a position, then we’ve lost, completely. We’ve lost, you know? I come out of a tradition where we used to have something called internal position papers, which were not for circulation at all. They were part of the internal debate. We didn’t want to get credit for them. We didn’t even always put our names on them. The idea was to have something in print–not in print–but as a text to basically struggle over so we can get clarity on our ideas. Because in the end, ideas matter! Ideas matter more than Molotov cocktails. You know, you can know how to burn something, you can know how to break something, you can know how to, you could have a bunch of chants, but that’s not the thing that drives movements. It’s the ideas. It’s like, okay, what do we do next? How do we, how do we fight for changes that are not going to tie us up? Right? So I’ll give you one example–this is a very recent thing, something that’s been on my mind, a lot of people’s minds–in New York City right now, there is an attempt on the part of people call themselves abolitionists and progressives to support building what they’re calling a “feminist jail.” That is a jail that has feminist elements to it. Care? No. There’s no such thing as a feminist jail. I mean, that’s sort of like benign slavery, you know? They don’t go together. And yet, this is also, this is what we talk about when we talk about “reformist reforms” as opposed to non-reformist reforms. You can make jails a little safer, you can improve the food, you know, you can have a birthing center, you can have child care in the jail, but it’s still a jail. And a jail is what we’re fighting against, you see? So things like that, that’s where Twitter could be good to let people know you need to basically impose this thing, but it’s not the space we need to create the kind of deeper understanding of like what kind of reforms do we fight for that might actually end up tightening the noose? We can’t know that. We can think it through, but it requires deep analytical thinking. And I have to say, you know, part of the argument that I make in Freedom Dreams is that that kind of deep analytical thinking is not the province solely of people who are formal intellectuals. In fact, sometimes those trained and traditional intellectuals are the problem, not the solution. We all have the capacity from the time we can speak in sentences, like five-years old, up until we’re 100-years old, irrespective of our background, the capacity to think through these things together. But no one can think about them in isolation. Right? We can debate these things together and figure out how to go forward because there’s a leap between saying–and, you know, again, you know this, you lived through this–you could begin by saying, Well, we need body cameras. And then it’s like, No, that doesn’t work. All it does is capture more images for us to circulate. Okay. So what do we need next? Oh, we need to demilitarize. Well, okay, that might be the case, but the problem is, it’s not just the hardware, it’s what police do and how they’re trained. It’s eventually we get to the point where, by 2020, it’s very clear to everyone that I know that we don’t need the police. We need to defund the police through a process of replacing police with something else. That’s a process of debate and struggle, you know, of really thinking through the contradictions. And that means, again, ideas really do matter. And that’s where the Internet is a great source, but also could be the death knell, because I have to say, you know, the same source that we can circulate ideas is the same source that circulates a lot of misinformation and lies and myths that are so dangerous, I can’t, I don’t even know what to say, you know?
DeRay Mckesson: There are a couple of questions that we ask everybody–and I could talk to you for a long time, because even with the book, I was like, Didn’t know this, it was like I get it–is: what do you say to people who are like they did all the things, right, read your book, read mine, went to class, listened to the podcast, voted, stood in the street, and they’re like, The world hasn’t changed, right? They’re like, I did all the things I was told to do and we’re still where I started, essentially. What do you say to those people?
Professor Robin Kelley: See, I don’t think that’s true. I think the world is always changing, you know? But I think that there are two things to consider. One, we have inherited a liberal framework for understanding how the world works.
DeRay Mckesson: And when you say liberal, can you–?
Professor Robin Kelley: I’ll tell what liberal means.
DeRay Mckesson: Okay. Tell us all.
Professor Robin Kelley: So liberal is not antithetical to capitalism or colonialism. Liberalism is the foundation for capitalism and colonialism. Liberalism basically means that it’s a kind of laissez faire, that is to say, a free-market ideology that essentially believes–and I’m going to be very specific tp the United States, U.S. liberalism–that America was founded essentially as a good place. That there’s a creed. Even Dr. King believed this idea of the creed, and I reject that. That America is built on this creed, this liberal creed of democracy, participation, the Constitution is this great document, despite the fact that it was written by slaveholders, you know? And that what we’re doing–and this is Obama, too, I disagree with him on this–that the arc of the moral universe just automatically bends toward justice, it just it takes time. And so the problem with the liberal teleology or liberal understanding of how history works, is that when we don’t see changes that are like dramatic, we say, Well, nothing’s changed. Or we say, or we’re told it just takes time. The assumption is that there’s always going to be progress. But that’s the mistake. There’s not always progress. There’s only struggle. There’s only struggle. There’s only determination. There’s not optimism or pessimism–those two terms don’t even work. Even hope doesn’t work that well. But what does work is determination. So what happens is that when we win something, we get push back. So what we don’t see is what we actually do achieve and that that achievement generates–I wouldn’t call a backlash–it’s just forces against us, arrayed against us. And so, you know, there would not–you know this–there would be no 26 million people in the streets had it not been for the mobilization around Ferguson, had it not been for the mobilization around Trayvon Martin, had it not been for the mobilization that led to the Baltimore uprising, right? All these different things created the conditions for a movement that is actually with us today. If I, you know that if I would just list all the organizations that emerged since 2013, we’d be here for 3 hours, right? Some of them are small, some of them are big, but for the most part, they exist. The problem is, is that when you wage war, you’re going to get war. And that’s what we’ve been witnessing. The capital rebellion of January 6th was, I would argue, a counter revolution to what happened spring 2020, specifically. Because who’s out there? It’s not the white working class out there. This is the police state that’s out there. Police officers, military entrepreneurs, and professional alt-right people, right? So the fact is, they’re terrified. The attacks on critical race theory–they’re, these are all responses, there are reactions to movement. So clearly, we have power, but we don’t–but if we expect to win, like the movies–we watch too many movies–like you’re victorious and you’re on the mountaintop and yes, you know, like we’re Rocky–that’s not how history works. It is two steps forward, one step back. It is constant, constant struggle and determination. And we’ve created space for a new generation to think about these things differently. Think about how the language has changed. Think about how the language around gender has changed, dramatically. All these attacks on transgender people, you know, is in response to the fact that we have won in terms of the social and cultural debate about being human in ways that the most reactionary white supremacists and masculinist patriarchal forces cannot tolerate. We keep winning, and that is the problem. But winning can’t be defined as a great, glorious victory. Winning is this constant struggle to survive. And as RG Lord said, you know, we were not expected to survive, and yet these people are terribly afraid of us. What do you think all that militarization and all that expansion of state violence is all about? You know, it’s like Otis Madison says, the late Otis Madison, the great political scientist, he said racism wasn’t invented for Black people, it was invented for white people to convince them that somehow they have a benefit that doesn’t even translate into money, right, for them. All these poor white people who all they have is their white skin privilege, which is not even a privilege for a lot of them. For Black people–as Otis Madison says–guns and tanks are sufficient, right? That is the reality we have. And that’s why we have guns and tanks. Why do we have a Second Amendment? The Second Amendment was to create militias to keep down indigenous people and enslaved people, African people. That’s why we have militias. That’s why we have a Second Amendment, right? That’s why these people are armed. That’s why America has more guns in any other place–because of us! So if you don’t think we’re winning, you know, I don’t know. It’s just that we’re up against a monster, and that monster is going to have to be brought down, but not be brought down tomorrow.
DeRay Mckesson: And the last question is, what’s the piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Professor Robin Kelley: Wow. That’s a really hard question because I’ve gotten so much advice. Well, you know, my mother is this smartest person I know, and I write about her in the introduction. And I would say my mother really believed in the beloved community–she didn’t use that language–but I have to say, I believe in the capacity of every single person to change. And my politics–and I get in trouble for this, especially the Afro-pessimists, they get mad at me about this–is that we really have to love. And to love is not to be wishy washy, is not to kind of forgive people for the crimes and stuff–to love is to be able to step outside ourselves, not in an empathetic way, but in a way of solidarity, to say, I’mma fight for you. I don’t care what you call me, I don’t care what word you use against me, I’mma still fight for you. Because, you know, we can have a better world. And we have to, and to me, that’s the best advice. My mom’s says, Okay, you know, you take care, you take care of everybody around the world. You don’t care who they are. I don’t care what they say to you. You don’t care if they, they don’t have to love you back. You still love.
DeRay Mckesson: Shout out to mom. And I love in the book how you talk about her focus on imagination and the future. How do people stay in touch with you? Should we, do we follow you on Twitter? Do we follow on Facebook? Is it, I know you write for the Boston Review–like, how do people stay in touch with you?
Professor Robin Kelley: I’m not, I got off Twitter. Yeah. How do people get in touch? Well, you know–
DeRay Mckesson: Or how do people follow your work?
Professor Robin Kelley: Well, you know, I you know, I just, I mean, I could be, people could email me at UCLA. I mean, the fact of the matter is that I’m, again, I’m old school. My work is out there. I don’t necessarily, I’m not really on social media. I have a Facebook page that my sister runs. I don’t know, I don’t even know how to work it. So, I’m, my stuff is out there publicly. You know, what I would really prefer is not people to follow my work, but my hope, and wish is that: read everything. Just tell people, Read everything. Read, be informed, engage. If my stuff comes up, great. But I don’t really care about that. I care about just knowledge. You know? I’m surrounded by tons of smart people around this planet, many of whom don’t have college degrees, and these are the people who will be our teachers.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, we consider your friend of the pod, and can’t wait to have you back.
Professor Robin Kelley: Thank you, DeRay. Really appreciate it.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out, make sure to read it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by A.J. Moultrie and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.