DeRay McKesson's Advice For Stephen Colbert About White Privilege Is A Lesson For All Of Us
On Martin Luther King Day, Black Lives Matter leader Deray McKesson appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to talk about police violence against the black community and issues impacting our ability to have a national conversation about racism. As they discussed Campaign Zero, a 10-point plan for addressing police violence in America put forth by four Black Lives Matter activists, the conversation kept coming back to why it is so hard for the general public to get on the same page about racial justice issues. The difficulty of acknowledging white privilege turned out to be a big part of their conclusion.
When Colbert asked McKesson, "Why do you think people get so mad about the idea of 'black lives matter'?" McKesson said:
I think that people are uncomfortable talking about the racist history of this country and what we need to do to undo the impact of racism. People would just like to act like we don't have a legacy of racism here.
The topic of discomfort came up again shortly after Colbert asked McKesson, "How do I identify [white privilege] in my own life?" McKesson pointed out Colbert's money and his show as clear examples of privilege, then gave Colbert some ideas on how he could use his privilege for good:
It's about role, and it's about access — and what you can do is extend that privilege so that you can dismantle it, right? So you can create opportunity for people, you can amplify issues in ways that other people can't, and you can use your resources to create space for people.
Here's some of what McKesson recommended:
Identify Why You're Uncomfortable
Colbert interpreted McKesson's advice to create space for people literally: "Let's switch seats." To the sound of loud applause, Colbert took the guest's chair as McKesson sat down to take over the role of host and interviewer.
His first question to Colbert was, "Now that you understand it, what are you gonna do with your privilege?" Colbert explained that he doesn't know what he can do to "dismantle" white privilege. McKesson moved on, asking instead, "Why do you think white people are uncomfortable talking about race?" Colbert said:
I can't speak for other white people, [but] I feel guilty for anyone who does not have the things I have. That includes black people or anyone, because I am so blessed — I think there's always a fear that it will be taken from me.
Transform Discomfort Into Action
McKesson then asked Colbert what the talk show host can do to manage his guilt. After stating that he drinks "a fair amount," Colbert asked McKesson if having him on the show helps at all, to which McKesson replied:
Baby steps. You gotta start somewhere. Gotta create space for the conversation. We can't address what we don't talk about.
Use Your Resources
Throughout this conversation, Colbert and McKesson hit on some of the biggest obstacles when it comes to an inclusive dialogue about race and privilege in America: discomfort, guilt, and fear. Feeling that we're "the bad guy" if we acknowledge privilege, or fearing that we'll lose what we have, can prevent us from accepting it.
But McKesson's insight that privilege can be used for good can help alleviate that fear and that guilt. What's "good" in this case? That the dignity and opportunity that come with privilege be extended to all. It's possible to use our access to our specific audiences in an effort to open the way for lesser-heard voices, whether our stage is the set of a national talk show or the kitchen table.
Images: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Youtube (3)