In This Episode
DeRay, Kaya, Myles, and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week — the outcome of Maui fires, extremists recruited into US military, Little Rock’s fight for Black History curriculum and the life and legacy of Clarence Avant.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: [music break] Hey, this is DeRay and welsome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it is me, Myles, Kaya, and De’Ara the gang is back to talk about all the under-reported news with regard to race, justice and equity from the past week. I love you all. It’s always good to talk. We talk about the fire tragedy in Maui. We talk about extremists recruited into the U.S. military, Little Rock, and the legacy of Clarence Avant. I learned a lot and De’Ara’s news is about um this piece of art y’all, blew my mind. Here we go. [music break]
De’Ara Balenger: Family. Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram, it’s a lively morning @dearabalenger.
Myles E. Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture
Kaya Henderson: Look for me–
DeRay Mckesson: Not feral rapture?
Myles E. Johnson: I was gonna I was gonna wait. Wait yeah not feral, pharaoh like Egyptian, like um parallel to Hotep. Pharaoh Rapture. [laughter]
Kaya Henderson: Ooh, my name is Kaya Henderson. And you can find me on Twitter, not the X, at @HendersonKaya.
DeRay Mckesson: And I’m DeRay at @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara Balenger: Hmm. Where should we start? Let’s I mean, I think because we haven’t talked about it at all, the fires in Maui, I think that’s a really good place to start. So many things. Just every natural disaster that we’re seeing now with global warming and climate change, all these things like how it really is impacting communities of color, impacting Indigenous communities in ways that you know, I actually I don’t know where we go, given how the inequities that currently exist. But then you have a situation that occurs, whether it’s Hurricane Katrina or now, whether it’s these fires in Maui where we see, you know, indigenous folks, folks of color, the last people to get help, the last people to get evacuated, the last people even to. There’s a story also about they didn’t even ring the bells or the alarms until a day later, Lord have mercy. So now we’re seeing this this this whole movement towards land grabbing by developers. And and I know y’all have read more about it than I have, but again, it’s just it’s one of those things where this is what we’re going to continue to see as these natural disasters get closer and closer together, more and more um constant. So it will be interesting to see what happens. But [?] what did y’all have to, what do you all have to say about this?
DeRay Mckesson: When I read about it, I was one of the things the first things, two things stuck out to me. One is that the guy who was in charge of disaster preparedness had no history in disaster preparedness, and he resigned, got fired, whatever. He’s no longer there after they didn’t uh ring the bells. Right. And they were you know, the island was known to have a robust emergency management system for this reason so that people can be alerted and da da. At no point as terror is raining down, do they alert people. And this is you know, I’ve been on this I’ve been reminded recently that like being in the government is a skill it’s and it turned into vibes for people. There’s just like, I got a cool job. You’re like, no, this is a skill. Like we need skilled people to do these things at scale. And and Maui, they didn’t have the the guy just didn’t have the skills. The second thing is I’m I’m really nervous about the underreporting of deaths because when I looked at an article just published on August 19th, the official death count is 114. Now, y’all know, given the devastation, devastation that happened, 114 is a low number and officials are estimating it could be a thousand more people and the number in the end will probably be much greater than than any of us have seen today. But the news cycle will go on and we have to accurately account for what happened so that this never happens like this again.
Myles E. Johnson: I think the thing that I was like most devastated about when hearing about this is it it’s happening in the order that I imagined it to happen. When I keep on being scared around the weather changing. When we talk about climate changing, when we talk about natural disasters is that it’s going to affect people who are obviously the most vulnerable. And I think sometimes inside of environmentalist talks and talks around um what this looks like. I think that sometimes there’s this gotcha moment that the natural disasters will be the great equalizers and the great and that the natural disasters is the beginning of the inequity that we’re going to that we’re going to see. And it scares me for the people who are native to Hawaii and what they’re going to do with that land and and and and what Hawaii’s going to look like in 20 or 30 years, if these natural disasters keep going and only people who can afford to live there or who can risk living there um are not the natives, but the wealthy people who can who who can who can move there, take the property risk, it’s just scary that this is the beginning of so many places. Hawaii, Puerto Rico come to mind, comes to mind too where people are going, the basically there’s gonna be islands strictly for the wealthy people and the people who are Indigenous [?] are going to be forced out because of uh global capitalism that’s harming the environment now. [mic rustling sounds]
Kaya Henderson: For me, [clears throat] the um you know, we are all wrapped up in sympathy and we are rightly sending money and praying and whatnot for the people of Maui. And there’s a whole nother set of people who see this as an economic opportunity and their evil colonial hearts are exploiting people in the midst of what can only be described as terror like part of the reason for the undercount is because people don’t even know where their people are. Like they just like, you know, people they can’t they have not counted because some people don’t even know where their people are. But in the midst of all of this, you as a realtor, real real estate developer, decide that you’re going to go down there and buy up the land. I mean, this is how America got Hawaii. It basically stole it from the Queen, big L, because I can’t remember her whole name. Lily, Lily Kahana or something like that. I can’t remember her name, but I mean, we basically stole the land from the native Hawaiians, and now there’s a whole bunch of rich people. Um. I wonder what they look like, going in and about to steal land from people who have been terrorized all over again. And that is problematic. Um. Y’all, we are living in the last days. I don’t really know how else to think about this stuff.
Myles E. Johnson: These are the longest last days that ever lasted, [?] Child goodness.
Kaya Henderson: Listen. It was nobody said it was going to be quick.
De’Ara Balenger: Well and y’all didn’t reply to my the article I put in the chat that made me cry when these whales, formed a heart in the ocean and then did a community suicide [laugh] they beached themselves onto the shore, like 100 whales.
Kaya Henderson: There’s a whole–
De’Ara Balenger: [?].
Kaya Henderson: –bunch of there’s a whole bunch of animal um activity, unusual animal activity going on around the world. Um. And the animals know what’s about to happen. They trying to signal to us, but we’re not paying attention.
DeRay Mckesson: And this is just to go back to the emergency management chief. So he had previously been deputy director of the Maui County Department of Housing and Human Concerns, had been chief of staff for the former Maui County mayor for 11 years. He said to say and that he often reported to the emergency operation centers and participated in numerous trainings. That does not make you an expert in natural disasters. In the same way that I am good at logistics, I know how to I’m like a planner. Da da da. I don’t know what to do in a if a flood is coming. I don’t know. I don’t. I ain’t got it. Somebody should be like, skilled to, like, fire, water like. I even think about in L.A., the big, you know, Hurricane Hilary that was coming. And where do homeless. What is happening with the homeless people when a flood comes? Like this should be people’s expertise to figure out. It shouldn’t be just like put a smart person in the room. Like, that’s not it.
Myles E. Johnson: It’s so common sense that this would be somebody’s expertise. Like the elements like that make so much sense to me. But I think that our expertise just becomes more and more about power and money and not people. So my news this week is about the passing of Clarence Avant. Clearance Avant is it’s really actually hard to talk about Clarence Avant and talk about what he does because he does so many different things. And his reputation is really that his career is his reputation is connecting people which I think is fascinating. I even watched his um documentary yesterday that is on Netflix called The Godfather um of Black Entertainment, The Black Godfather. And it is so, even after watching it and like milling through it. What does he do? Can’t quite tell you, but he makes things happen. He would teach and um advise people politically and musically and artistically as well as get them the contracts they need to get get give people their money they needed. Two two former presidents and a vice president were in this documentary who’ve been influenced by him. Um. Countless artists. If I just start naming them, it I would just be here too long. And I want to get into um his influence a little bit deeper before I talk to everybody else. But just an amazing, influential, amazingly influential. But now that he’s passed on, I think that the thing that came to me was I don’t know who the torches are being passed to. I know people are dying. [laugh] Not to be uh not to be morbid. I’m like like I feel like in the past, maybe seven years, we’ve really lost some heavy hitters that feel like Santa Claus is dead. Like in my adult brain, like I didn’t necessarily plan on the big hole that’s left when, you know, Toni Morrison is not coming out with another book that Maya Angelou is not going to try to tell you the right thing to say. You can you can ar– you can go through their back stories, but it’s not happening anymore. And then when it comes to Clarence Avant, because he was giving people such great advice and then also helping people get what they need, helping other people create wealth in their families and get these contracts. I get kind of concerned because I don’t know if there’s as much pride in that role that Clarence has, because maybe when you’re in your late nineties, you might get a Netflix opportunity. If a young producer thinks you’re not, you know, good. Yeah, I just it just it just feels really empty knowing that he’s not that, that he’s not here anymore and that I don’t necessarily see oh yeah this is this generation’s Berry Gordy this is this generation’s Clarence Avant, this is this generations etc. etc. I just don’t see that. And I wanted to talk to you all about not just leadership in artistic and entertainment communities and who do you all see as leaders or what what are y’alls opinions on it? But just, I guess, a bigger conversation around leadership and and passing torches. And I don’t know. I’m 32 and I feel like I’m always every day I’m feeling like I’m getting older, DeRay’s some way, somehow getting older and I’m hearing numbers and I’m like, wait, is the grown up I’m looking to come save me, me? Is this happening? Like it’s so yeah, it’s his passing of a ripe old age and such a beautiful life just have me reflecting on a lot, both when it comes to his legacy and all the amazing things that he has touched. And then also when it comes to our own legacies and who we can touch and what we find pride in.
Kaya Henderson: It’s an interesting perspective, Myles, because I think a lot of people had no idea who Clarence Avant was until the documentary or until the tragedy that happened with his wife last year. Um. You know, he was behind the scenes and people in the industry, of course, I mean, if you look at the outpouring of of expressions of sympathy, clearly he touched everybody in the industry. But I think there are lots of folks who had no idea who he was. And I’m thankful that his son was able to pull together the documentary, frankly, before he died. And he got his flowers before he died. I mean, he lived till 92, which is a solid run, if you ask me, and maximized those 92 years like my only hope is that I like, use my time well, and he used his time well to literally transform um transform the music industry. And I and I don’t know, I mean, there I my guess is there are producers, people out there who we don’t know, who have their hands on all kinds of things. Um. And they might like to be on the low. [laugh] They might like to be behind the scenes. I have a friend who always says, I’d rather be rich, but I don’t want to be famous. And so I like to think that, you know, there are a bunch of people behind the scenes who are making things work and that um that some of them have been mentored by Clarence and some of the other giants in the industry. And I hope um that those folks are, you know, are maximizing their opportunity.
De’Ara Balenger: I love this family and I’m so sad about this. And I’m so sad for my friend Nicole, who is such a light to all of us. Um. So we’re sending you love, Nicole, umm but Myles, I love how you brought this to the table. Um. And I think, part of the disconnect is that your generation has to see stuff. It got to be online. And I love Clarence Avant, and it’s very inspirational to me because true hustlers move in silence, and that’s what the young people today don’t understand. [laughter] So I think there are folks–
Kaya Henderson: I literally almost I literally almost said that same line De’Ara, that just tells you how auntie we are. [laughter]
De’Ara Balenger: Because people ain’t everybody, you know, the folks that do crisis management, the people that are the plugs, the people that are doing things behind the scenes. There are many of us. Let me just say.
Kaya Henderson: Well not the plugs. [laughter]
Myles E. Johnson: [?]
Kaya Henderson: Not the plugs. [laughter].
De’Ara Balenger: There are and I think I’m I’m proud of that. And I think what is what has inspired me so about Clarence Avant is like understanding the bigger picture for us Black folks, understanding that we need wealth, understanding that we need political power, understanding that we need to be in rooms, in boardrooms. Um. So much like Vernon Jordan, just this also, I’ll say, like this generation, what I what I will say about this generation is there’s almost there’s just an old schoolness about them that. I feel like we’re truly missing, like sending handwritten notes and sitting down and just telling stories or not you know, there’s just there’s something so incredibly special about this generation. I feel like Bill Clinton is still one of those folks, too, that is just like they just have a different way of moving through the world. But yeah, this this is this is a tough one. But yeah, he lived a long and beautiful life. So thank you for bringing it to the the pod Myles.
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. I I need to watch the documentary. I’ve seen people talk so glowingly about him, and I do think there is something De’Ara to your point. Not only did we sort of grow up on the Internet, but there’s that generation of older people, like I think of my grandmother, my great grandmother, that crew who, like they just they saw bad. They didn’t read about bad. They didn’t watch bad on TV. They lived bad. They, like, came up in a time when it was it was real different and they’re I think that the historical arc in the lens of what counsel looks like and what mentorship looks like just is different. Like I remember being in the White House when um with C.T. Vivian, and we had this meeting with President Obama. It was like ten of us, and there was like a there was like an awe in C.T. Vivian’s face because he was just like, I never thought I’d see a Black pres– he’s like, I never thought I would be in the White House, you know what I mean? Like he’s like, I remember getting beat on the side of the street. I re–, he was like, we that was our li– that’s we lived and that sort of like calm graciousness that comes from the long arc, I think is what uh Clarence Avant sort of embodied in all the stories that people told about him it’s like, you know, it is you all everybody on this call knows it’s like a one phone call can change your life. One one who you sit next to a dinner, who you who you bump into at the party, like you actually just have to show up. So much of it is showing up and getting connected with the right people. And those people, De’Ara like you said, they do exist often in silence. Uh. And I’m I’m hopeful that the next generation of those people takes us even further. [music break].
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.
Kaya Henderson: My news today um comes out of Little Rock, Arkansas, um and it’s a story of resistance. And most of us know that Little Rock, Arkansas um is a is a storied place in American history. Central High School, specifically, where nine Black teenagers in 1957 integrated Little Rock, um Little Rock’s Central High School. And here it is in the middle of resistance. Again, many of you know that there’s been a lot of controversy over the new AP African-American history class, that the College Board developed. All of the brouhaha in Florida and whatnot and blah, blah, blah. But it’s moving forward. People are um teaching it this school year and at Central High School, they were planning on teaching the course. And Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders on a Saturday, y’all, the Saturday before school starts, school started on Monday for teachers. And on Saturday she had the State Department of Education issue guidance in an email to all their school districts around the country. I think they even had I think they had a conference call as well. Um. But they basically banned the teaching of the of the class. They didn’t outright ban it, but they said that because the course might run afoul of these new laws that are banning teaching, that indoctrinate students with quote unquote, “ideologies,” um that the AP class, the AP African-American history class might not carry the state credit towards graduation, the state won’t pay the $98 test fees, and the oh teachers might lose their license for teaching it. And might all of this because it might run afoul of the laws. And the chilling effect was immediate. Um. And lots of people who were literally planning to start the course on Monday, lots of kids who had the course programmed into their schedules. The schools had to scramble to undo and find them other things to fit their schedules, etc., etc.. And Little Rock said, no, mm mmm we actually think that this is important. Um. The district said, and I quote, “AP African-American studies will allow students to explore the complexities, contributions and narratives that have shaped the African-American experience throughout history, including Central High School’s Integral connection.” And I brought this to the podcast because, one, I just think that there are not enough stories of resistance. Um. These these laws and policies that are having chilling effects. I was just reading about a teacher in Georgia who got fired for reading a book to her fifth grade classes that taught that talked about, it didn’t even explicitly talk about gender fluidity. Um. But, you know, these laws that the Republicans are waging, the culture wars that are happening in education, you know, all we read about is how, you know, they’re doing this, they’re doing that, they’re doing the other. And we’re not reading enough about what people are doing to stand up against them. And so this is, I think, the first instance of a district standing up. I’ve heard a lot about community based groups and people outside of schools who are finding ways to get true history and culture to our young people. But it’s going to take us institutionally to stand up. And there are great people leading great institutions in these states where these Republicans have gone bananas. And we have to show them that they’re that that, you know, we’re willing to stand up. We have to show them that we’re willing to fight. You know, you just brought up C.T. Vivian like those are those civil rights warriors were willing to get knocked on the head, thrown into jail for our right to vote, for our right to be equal. And, you know, these people are putting a little school stuff on us, and we are afraid. I think, that um I want people to be emboldened by this story. I want people to follow this story. I want people to support Central High School and the Little Rock, Arkansas School district, because um these people don’t get to decide. You get to decide whatever you want for your kids, but you don’t get to decide how my kids learn history. And that is something that I am willing to fight in the streets for and I want the rest of us to because, of course, if you don’t know your history, we’re doomed to repeat it. I could go on and on. But yeah, that’s my news for this week.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, Kaya this makes me think about why we talk about the importance of mass movements. And it’s an old organizer saying this is uh they can’t kill us all, right? They can’t arrest us all. They can’t. They the system would just be overwhelmed if more and more people fight back. This is why the police this is why the consequences are so great, because they need to bank on you not realizing that the more of you press, the harder it becomes for the system to to fight. You think about cour– court. It’s like, you know, 90% of people plead guilty, the system would crumble if people demanded trials. We just the infrastructure is actually just not there. I say that because, you know, with this AP course, it is amazing to see a city stand up and it’ll be even cooler to see more and more of them just be like, we we get it. We like fire all the teachers then what? Right? When when every teacher says, you know what, cool. I’m a not only am I going to teach Black history, I’m naming my classroom after Black activists like we will, I’m going to do this balls to the wall. Right? I’m gonna go hard about it and do it to force the state to say, you know what? We’re going to fire every teacher in Arkansas. We’re going to fire like that is why we do mass movements to force the battle with the state. So I’m interested to see how this happens. Uh. I think it is a pivotal organizing moment because the right is at every step pressing people into a corner and, you know, when the people get pressed into a corner, they got to fight back.
De’Ara Balenger: Kaya, isn’t there currently like a lack of teachers across the country? Aren’t we just in a crisis for not having enough teachers?
Kaya Henderson: Humungous teacher shortage. Absolutely.
De’Ara Balenger: I just don’t. So we have that and then we have, you know, kids missing from school post COVID, actually having policymakers that are addressing issues [laugh] that are really impacting people’s lives. Like, I just feel like we’re so far from true legislating. We’re so far from actually being thoughtful and caring around what people need. And it’s all wrapped up into this power dynamic, this money dynamic. Myles, that you talked about earlier. Like, that’s what we’re talking about because, you know, I even was having a conversation this weekend about, you know, a Republican politician being like, you know, I just I’m I’m pro-life, that’s my belief system, etc., etc.. But it’s like, isn’t all this just smokescreen for a little bit of people keeping a whole lot of power? And I feel like that’s what this CRT thing is. That’s what this, you know, the ban on these classes, what’s happening in Florida it’s like these folks don’t really care about these things. They it’s not they’re not doing it for a moral reason. It is so that they can keep everybody in a tizzy, so that they can keep doing what they do [laugh] um and and keep more money in their pockets and more opportunity in their pockets than everybody else. So I don’t know. This is this is wild and just so, so out of this world for me.
Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. I wouldn’t dare really try to add anything to what any of you all just said, because I will say I’m proud of people who are resisting. Obviously this sucks that we have this to resist to, um for lack of better words. I’m also, but I am curious from I guess both Kaya and DeRay. What do you think the future like just all the stories that we hear about education and stuff like what do you think the future of education is? So if I’m a 32 year old and I’m saying maybe in the next ten years, you know, let me whisper this, maybe in the next ten years, I want a child and in ten year or excuse me, in that ten years, what would even education look like if I was living in the South? Or what like do you think it’s going to change? Do you think it’s going to be divided where this is happening, where it’s not do you like what what’s going on?
Kaya Henderson: Ooh, I’m sad that you asked this question because [laughing] I am usually I listen, I walk on the sunny side of the street. I’m an eternal optimist and I am more worried about education than I’ve been in my 30 plus year career. Um. I think that part of the reason why this particular moment is so dangerous is because people are tired, like teachers are tired from the pandemic. Principals are tired from the pandemic. Folks are tired from, you know, 30 years of education reform. And like you can go get a gig job that is far less, [laugh] less stressful and whatnot. And this is I mean, we see people exiting the profession at unprecedented in unprecedented numbers and not the pipeline coming to fill it. And and, you know, I say all the time, edu– like education is a people development job. And and if there are not people to develop the little people, then, you know, we are in some real trouble. I think we’ve overestimated the the role that technology can play in education. It can’t replace teachers. It cannot it will not ever. You can get some stuff through technology. But if we’re going to raise whole good people, um people have to do that. And so I I am worried that the right is taking advantage of this moment of fatigue, um this moment of, you know, whatever, and pressing it out. And I think um sometimes you got your back really has to be up against the wall and you got to be about to lose everything in order to fight hard for it. So my hope is that, like we will rally. My hope is that the teachers unions will get, you know, crazier than they’ve ever been in in service of, you know, saving teachers jobs. And when they are confronted with these, you know, draconian laws and stuff like that, I mean, I think I actually think the system needs to be overhauled in a completely different way. And and we thought that the pandemic would allow us the opportunity to do that. It did not. Um. But it has to look very different than the way it currently does, because the current system is far too precarious. It’s not delivering the results that we need. Um. And so we got to do this differently. And I think in the next 10 to 15 years, Myles I mean, the amount of homeschool like homeschooling has gone up, Black homeschooling has gone up 20%. More Black families homeschool than they did before the pandemic. Like the numbers are wild. People are opting out of the system. In Florida, people are creating Afrocentric schools because they’re like, great, you won’t teach our history. We’ll teach our own history. Like and and Black people have had a history of teaching ourselves from citizenship schools right after Reconstruction to teach people how to read and write so that they could vote to freedom schools during the civil rights movement to, you know, Marva Collins in her kitchen in Chicago, Westside Preparatory Academy. Like we will teach ourselves. And I think that for real, like we gonna be the only people who are who can save ourselves because this is not a system that was designed for us. Um. I think Black educators, you know, if you look at his–, oh, God, don’t get me started. The history of Black educators, what integration did to um rob Black Capital, I mean, there were Black principals who had to become cabdrivers because of integration, right? Like and so I think our educational future is in our own hands and we gonna have to save ourselves.
DeRay Mckesson: The thing that I think of too, is there’s such a long tradition of organizing around education and Blackness that we don’t talk about. And the story that I’ll add to what Kaya said is that one of my really close friends, his mom passed and in Chicago and I went to the funeral. And, you know, Black people, [?] funerals are very sad and Black people don’t know how not to cut up. So people telling stories about her. And one of the best stories, they were like, um you know, at the house, at their at at her mom’s house, at my friend’s grandmother’s house. The school wouldn’t feed the Black kids during lunch, so she would open her porch every single day during lunch and feed all the Black kids, like that’s how they became a community. So all the kids came to the funeral because they grew up with my friend’s mom. And I’m like, you know, they Black people are just a gift to this world, right? She, her porch every day. She fed the Black kids lunch like how beautiful and how sad that that was a necessity. I do think that something will happen where where parents, not the affluent parents, not those moms for liberty types, but sort of the like parents with two jobs and a lot going on, will just say no. And in my experience in school systems, I think a lot so many parents that I dealt with in Minneapolis and in Baltimore, the system sort of was fixed. They were like, this is education, this is the way it is. It’s like they didn’t know that unless something really went crazy with their kid and normally around discipline or something, they never thought that they had agency to fight or change something that just wasn’t how even my father I tell the story all the time. My father was like, DeRay, if anybody ever calls the house, I believe him. I’m like, Daddy, that’s crazy. He was like, I hope they don’t call the house. I’m like daddy. What? That isn’t [?]. But he he too, like couldn’t imagine and remind you at my highschool, parents are coming in demanding honors classes for their kids, demanding AP. My father wouldn’t have imagined that he could tell a teacher to do like that just wasn’t how he was raised. And I think something will snap where where our parents will be like, no. And I think about that school board meeting that happened. I don’t know if you saw it on Twitter, but there were some some [?] some community, 40% of the kids are Black–
Kaya Henderson: No no, not some community. We talked about this two weeks ago. This is Dallas, where they’re turning the libraries into detention centers. And that–
DeRay Mckesson: And only white–
Kaya Henderson: And and the white–
DeRay Mckesson: Yeah.
Kaya Henderson: The white schools can have their libraries, but the Black kids schools got to be detention centers.
DeRay Mckesson: But, are you talking no but there was a [indistinct banter].
Kaya Henderson: And, there was a parent who stood up and told the superintendent off.
DeRay Mckesson: I think we’re talking about two separate.
Kaya Henderson: Oh.
DeRay Mckesson: But yes, that too.
Kaya Henderson: Okay. Sorry.
DeRay Mckesson: But there was a picture of a school board meeting about book bans, I think. And it was like 40% of the district is Black, but the entire room was white parents. And it was because the meeting was at like 11 a.m. and you’re like, well, who can come at 11 a.m.? But but people take people took that picture as a representation of like, who cared? And you’re like, no, my father could have never made an 11 a.m. school board meeting, but he cared. Right. And I think something will happen that will force and the last super last thing I’ll say is that I remember something happened in Baltimore and I used to run Human Captain. And Human Capital’s office was on the first floor. Somebody did something to this woman, uh this woman’s son. She came in her bonnet in the in the lobby of the school system and just started yelling to see the superintendent. And when I tell you I’m getting called, they like, is that your office? I’m like, no, she outside, though. And like, it was that sort of intensity. And when I tell you somebody walked her upstairs, I don’t know if she saw the superintendent. But the superintendent’s office definitely came down to see her because she was like, I’m not I’m not waitng for a meeting. And she was like, don’t treat my child like and it’s that you know, you you get 15 of them, the whole building upside down. You know what I mean? One changed the whole day. 15 is a crisis. You know. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
De’Ara Balenger: My news today, this is this is one of those times where I really appreciate artists like Alexandra Bell, who basically goes after media media representations of Black folks. So in all the headlines I found about this article, it centers the whiteness of it all, right? So it’s about the title of this New York Times article is His name was Bélizaire, rare Portrait of enslaved child arrives at the Met. Now that that is true. But that’s not what this story’s about. This story’s about a Black man in Baton Rouge who is an art collector. His name is Jeremy Simien. Thank you, Jeremy. Who just understands the value of collecting Black art, how Black people are featured in Black art, but also with the belief that we have always been captured in art all along. And so some of these institutions who actually don’t even have a consciousness around that, they’re just like, Oh, I guess Black people just didn’t arrive in paintings until 1960. Jeremy does all of this work to uncover these beautiful portraits of Black folks from from the turn of the century and before? So this particular painting and I this is how this article starts, the article starts, for many years, a 19th century painting of three white children in Louisiana landscape held a secret. Oh, God. Why we starting the article there. I’m not starting the article there. I’m starting it with again, back to Jeremy. So what ended up happening is and there’s there’s actually a really amazing video that’s tied to this New York Times story. He saw so this image, so there’s three white kids in the image and then this beautiful Black child is in um is in the image as well. So it’s a portrait of four children. So Jeremy, though no, like the painting was restored because at some point the Black child had been painted over. And so Jeremy really noticed that discrepancy and was like, huh I wonder what happened here? Why was the child painted over? Who’s the artist? Who’s this family? And so really took a deep dive um working with this woman, uh Katie Morlas Shannon, who’s a Louisiana historian, on really finding the truth about this painting and what happened. Long story short, what they believe happened is the painting passed down hands, of course, in the family. And during the Jim Crow era, the Black child was painted over. Given um the drama and the chaos over within the Jim Crow era and how that impacted social politics. Then the painting was given to the Louisiana Museum of blah, blah, blah, where it just sat. And what’s funny when you watch this video is that the man that runs that museum talks a great deal about how, yes, we should have investigated this painting. We should have done a little bit more digging. But, you know, it was a mistake and we didn’t. Oh, well. So it’s a really interesting, really interesting look, both this story, how this story is coming to us, because most of the articles, you know, it really centers on you know, the white children and even how this young boy is characterized. Right? It’s you know, whether it’s enslaved youth, slave, whatever it is, it’s just like, can we get to a little bit more humanity about who this who this person was and what this representation means? This painting is going to the Met because Jeremy Simien, who I just want to call him a Black culturalist believes that the painting should be seen by all. Now we know a lot of our Black art is held in the hands of people and we’ll never see it. A lot of our representations who knows? [laugh] Who you know, who, who knows the deeper story and whether it will ever be shared in an accessible way. So this painting will be at the Met in the American gallery. And what’s also interesting about the American gallery, if you haven’t been there, is it’s it’s it’s it’s portraits and imagery um from the 1800s and since Black folks in America weren’t valued other than for labor in that in that time, there’s not many images of us. One of one of the images is by an artist named Elizabeth Colomba, who is incredible. And if you all don’t know about her, please look her up. But Elizabeth Columba is this incredible paint painter. But what she does is she finds historical repre– you know, she there are so many examples of Black folks in history during the 1800s that have done extraordinary things, contributed, etc.. And so Elizabeth recreates what she believes these folks would look like, given the time, given what people were wearing at the time, etc., etc.. So she has a piece there. So I think now we’ll have two at the Met in the in the American wing. [pause] So check this story out. I’m still processing it and what it means, but it is believed to be like the oldest American representation of a of a of a Black person that exists. So shout out to Jeremy Simien. Incredible. And yeah, keep digging into this and watch the video if you have time. I’m of course going to see it at the Met.
Myles E. Johnson: I am so passionate about Black museums [laughing] because this just cannot keep on happening, you know? And you would think that it wouldn’t happen again and I just I don’t know. I just think that preserving our art is such a big deal and preserving our images are such a big deal. And I hope and I feel like we’re I know a lot of people who take it seriously, both digital and intimate stuff as well as um photography and physical art. And I think this story just reminds you just how important that is and also how we value we if there’s a chance for us to be valued rightly, it’s more than likely going to happen to ourselves, like by ourselves, like in our living room, um me and my partner, we collect those kind of Black figurines that came out in the eighties and nineties. A lot of those um were designed by Black artists who um probably like Emma Amos is probably like one of the very popular ones too, but a lot of them were those figurines were made as a, a rebuttal to some of the more, to the racist figurines and toys that America has had. So in the in the seve– uh eighties and um nineties there was a boom of these figurines and your grandmother probably has them and blah blah blah. But I still think they’re so valuable. So anytime I come across them or see them, I pick them up and I keep them and I don’t know, that story brought me to that, that little hobby that me and my partner have because the the value, the value of that photo is just immense, it feels it feels silly to even say should it be at the Met? Should it be in this museum? Should it be in this museum? It just feels so immense that people who literally revolutionized image making in this nation, this is one of the first images of the people who will then go in revolution, who would then be the people who created Michael Jackson, you know, [laughter] like who didn’t go and, go on in and and and and revolutionize what we what we think about when it comes to images. And it’s wild that it’s been treated with such disdain and carelessness.
De’Ara Balenger: There’s this there’s a sentence and I’m just going to read the sentence because I think you all will just get it. By 19th century, portraits of people of African descent dot dot dot have drawn high prices. So for me, the connection is even hundreds of years later, the portraits of these enslaved African folks are still being bought and sold. It’s really wild to me, anyway.
Kaya Henderson: Because I just am on this thread. This connects so clearly to me to, you know, the anti CRT, the book banning the literally erasure of us from history. Right. Like, that is the point of this the point of this the of painting over this Black child. Um. One of the things that I thought was very interesting is they were like, he draws a striking similarity to the white children, which intimated that he might be it might have been they sibling, but we won’t talk about that um literally, that he didn’t exist. Right. That’s that’s the point of painting it over that this lovely white family, these lovely white children were here doing their thing. And this Black person who clearly was integral to their lives did not exist. Let’s just paint him over. And that’s what the people are trying to do with not teaching African American history, with not allowing children of all stripes to see themselves in the thing that they are learning. When all of the research shows that when kids see themselves in what they are learning, their engagement is higher, their academic success is higher. Leadership, confidence, all of this, these people understand the research. We know it from the movie industry. Representation matters when we see ourselves in movies, in portraiture, in music, in whatever. It has a radical effect on who we are as individuals. And this is a [?] this is not new. This ain’t new. That’s what this tell– reminded me. This is not new. These people are true to this. They been erasing us and erasing us and erasing us from the beginning of time. And I take heart in the fact that we will not be [stuttering] relaced re re erased. There is no culture, there is no portraiture, there is no music, there is no education without Black, Come on, y’all, [?] listen. I’m a need to have me a something, tranquilizer, [?], are you kidding me? You erased the little Black boy out of the picture. Come on, y’all. We not having this.
DeRay Mckesson: I think I don’t even have anything like so De’Ara shout out to you, the history lesson. Beautiful. Didn’t know there were so few depictions in the American section of the Met. Um. Everybody should have to listen to your historical and contextual framing for this. I can’t even move past the fact they painted over him. That to me is still so shocking. I mean, it’s not shocking because you can’t put anything past whiteness, but that he was there and then they had an overcoat of paint over him. It’s just so white supremacy. I mean, it’s like it’s almost so on the nose that you’re like, it’s a TV show. It’s not real. Like, it’s just too it’s too on the nose. Um. So thank you for bringing this. Hadn’t heard about it, hadn’t read about it, hadn’t seen it, didn’t know. Um. And I do love that the naming of the portrait is him. And then the other people, you know, it’s like him and his little friends. Yes. Um. So my news is about it’s two things I’m sort of wrapping into one. One is you probably all of you probably heard about the story of the woman who was killed over this past week, Laura A. Carleton, because she had a pride flag outside of her store. Um. The killer was 27 years old and ripped down the flag. He shot and killed her after she confronted him. She leaves behind a family um and, you know, a legacy that was was ripped away in a life that was ripped away too, too early. Um. Okay so then I I’m coupling this with an article that is about the Army’s lack of screaming screening for uh military recruits and extremists. And the reason I bring this up is that, you know, people think about homophobia as a not nice thing as people getting called names. But I’m reminded that homophobia is dangerous. It has visceral consequences. It impacts people’s lives every single day. And she was killed for simply having the flag outside of her building. That’s it. I mean, just being in solidarity, he killed her. And if that’s not a wake up call to people, I don’t know what is. So I bring that here just because I’m I’m floored by it. The second thing, though, about the Pentagon watchdog finding lax oversight, and it was in the Boston Globe, is they noted that in 41% of the cases in the sample set, recruiters didn’t report asking their crew about potential extremist affiliations. Uh. They did an audit which analyzed 224 applications out of 193,000. They discovered instances where screening mechanisms like interviews, questionnaires, tattoo reviews, fingerprint checks, background investigations, were reported haphazardly. And why does this matter? Because the Boston Globe investigation revealed that at least 82 current and former military service members have far right anti-government or neo-Nazi views and were arrested in the past five years. I just bring this up here because just like with police departments, the military, whether you, you know, are anti-imperialist, pro the government, we just can’t have people with this this many this much access to weapons and resources who are neo-Nazis out in the government and in these forces as we work towards a anti-carceral system. The floor should be the absence of white supremacy. I mean, like neo-Nazi, like that should be just an easy thing that we agree on. But it makes sense that the government doesn’t even screen for that. And I don’t know, I don’t expect more from the government. But I was like, come on y’all.
Myles E. Johnson: And I guess I always just keep on waiting on the news that knocks into this imaginary person in my head who doesn’t get it. Like, but see, I’m right, but I’m like, how? How what else do you need for there to be proof that these systems, like the police, like the army, these kind of like institutions, are just breeding grounds for white supremacy? And I remember having this um conversation around national [?] and talking about the police and you know, growing up in suburban rural Georgia, um it’s easy to [?] the most racist 15 year old you met, what does his dad do? You’re going to say, oh, he’s a cop or he’s a lieutenant somewhere? Like, we just I just know that that’s just [laugh] I don’t know any other way to describe it, but it but my my 12 year old ten year old brain knew that just from living someplace. And I’m just waiting for and maybe it’ll never happen for the government to amend it. That is messed up that wow, people who are in army fatigue in American military outfits and stuff like that stormed the Capitol. There are pe– there there’s a there’s a coven there’s a a parallel between people who are who who are white supremacists, who decide to be cops, who decide to go in the army. I that we don’t aren’t real about that then yeah. Where things like this are always going to happen and then you’re going to have people who are armed and lunatics and people who are homophobic and people who um have found spaces to be groups with each other and and have and find brotherhood right underneath our noses in things that we say are supposed to protect us. If we’re not real about the fact that they’re comfortable here for a reason and and and being real about what that reason is.
De’Ara Balenger: I mean, I’m glad that like this, an audit of this sort, you know, it was done. And so one thing I will say about just my experience and when I was at the State Department and had to liaise with Department of Defense. When when there is a change in protocol. It does it happens quite quickly. So I think that is. I mean, I don’t know the silver lining in this, if there is one, is that hopefully, given this audit, some changes will be made and be made quickly. I’m also thinking, DeRay about [?], who is our dear friend who was in the Air Force and [?] had an HR role in the Air Force. And I feel like she would take this audit and be like, okay, now we about to reorganize all y’all. So it does [laughing] give me some solace in just knowing um just the capability of of of of the department of our military agencies being able to address things like this in a really, really efficient way. If they want to. That’s the question.
Kaya Henderson: The if they want to, and it depends on whose there are two really important– [laughing]
De’Ara Balenger: That’s right. Important things, that’s right. Yeah. If they do it in the next next year.
Kaya Henderson: Well I mean.
Myles E. Johnson: That’s a whole meat and potatoes. Sorry. [banter]
Kaya Henderson: Right. But this is why this is why I like we can’t be tired. This is why we have to continue to go into these spaces that are hostile to us and lead because who is there matters and and people’s willingness to take this kind of stuff on matters. And you know, that 15 year old boy in, you know, Georgia, Myles, not only is his daddy a police, but he becomes the police. Right. And and we see it generationally. And, you know, this is why we need different people in these roles and these jobs. I mean, this this the first of all, the the ally who was killed, she’s a mother of nine, like she’s a community advocate like this lady, salt of the earth, like living a righteous life. [laugh] Right. And and you know, this clear, clearly an extremist in some way or another, shooting her for being an ally is incredibly scary. Um. And we should all we should all be traumatized by this. Um. And then the fact that, as DeRay said, people who have access to training for with weapons like weapon weapons, military grade weapons um are are extremists and supremacists, and we’re not even checking for it. That seems crazy. Um. And so my hope is that whoever is listening and knows somebody who knows somebody, that you would spread the word about this, retweet this, you know, article in the Globe, tell the people that, you know, because um as somebody once said to me, the only time things change is when we start demanding rioting in the streets for something different and whether it is teaching our right history or making sure that the people who are supposed to protect and serve us from the police to the military um are not neo-Nazis like we it’s time for us to be rioting in the streets.
Myles E. Johnson: Like the bar is just what? [laughing] Like–
Kaya Henderson: I mean not we not asking for much.
Myles E. Johnson: That was such a sincere statement but I had to like listen to it. And I’m like, what? That’s what we’re begging for, Jesus. And a few more Messiahs whichever one you listen to, we need them all. Goodness.
DeRay Mckesson: In hell. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles E. Johnson. [music break]