On Monday night, DeRay Mckesson stopped by “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
The activist and organizer best known for his work within the Black Lives Matter movement was on to discuss Campaign Zero, an anti-police brutality initiative started last year.
While there, Mckesson did a rundown of where we’re at as a country on race and gave a quick primer on privilege.
Race can be a really tricky thing to discuss. It’s one of those issues that immediately puts people on the defensive and can make some feel attacked. Still, it’s important we have these discussions because, as Mckesson says…
And he’s absolutely right. It’s not uncommon to hear the argument that if we only stopped talking about race, then racism would disappear. Now, of course, that makes about as much sense as a doctor treating cancer by pretending it doesn’t exist. But it’s still something a fair number of people seem to believe.
It’s important we have these discussions so we can begin to address the ongoing impact of racism, Mckesson tells Colbert.
Anyone being honest with themselves should be able to admit this country has a not-so-pleasant history of racism. From slavery to Jim Crow laws to police profiling, it’s impossible to ignore the harm that’s been done and how those dark periods continue to affect us as a nation. (And to be clear, racism is alive and well, sadly).
So we need to have those tough talks about racism past and present if we ever hope to truly change it.
Which means we need to address the topic of privilege. And no, that’s not some sort of accusation.
Step one is acknowledging that white privilege exists. Acknowledging that white privilege exists doesn’t mean that white people haven’t worked hard for everything they have in their lives; it’s not an accusation that we’ve been handed everything we have. It’s simply an acknowledgement that in the case of white people and white privilege our lives would be more challenging if we weren’t white.
OK, OK, but what are some examples of privilege? White privilege is not having to worry about being racially profiled everywhere you go. White privilege is not having to live under the oppression of centuries of dangerous, harmful stereotypes. White privilege is having the luxury of not thinking about racism. There are so many examples out there.
The goal, Mckesson explains, is to use that privilege to help make the equal opportunities available for marginalized groups.
“What you can do is extend that privilege so you can dismantle it,” Mckesson tells Colbert. “You can create opportunity for people.”
In Colbert’s case, this could mean using his show to promote causes that support social justice; it could mean making sure he had a diverse writing staff; it could mean having guests like Mckesson or Killer Mike (as he recently did) on to have candid conversations on racial equality.
The goal isn’t to bring white people down, but to raise marginalized groups up.
“We had an extended conversation,” Mckesson said of his interview with Colbert, which was edited for time. “It was really good.”
The takeaway from the interview, both as it aired and as Mckesson presented it, was to open up the floor for a nonconfrontational, guilt-free chat about how people of all racial backgrounds can push back on the power structures that uphold white privilege.
“We have to be able to talk about [privilege] in order for us to do anything about it.”
Ask yourself what you can do today to help facilitate one of those conversations. If you’re white, how can you use your privilege to help others? How can you help make the world a better place for all people?
It all starts with conversation.
You can check out Colbert and Mckesson’s segment below.
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