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DeRay Mckesson Talks About Continuing To Resist In A Post-Trump Era

DeRay Mckesson Talks About Continuing To Resist In A Post-Trump Era

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One of the leading voices behind Black Lives Matter opens up about the movement's successes and what will happen once Trump is out of office.

A civil right activist who gained national attention during the protests that followed the 2014 shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, DeRay Mckesson has since become one of the leading voices in the Black Lives Matter movement.

On this week's episode of LGBTQ&A, DeRay talks about how the public conversation around police shootings has changed since Ferguson, why we need to make sure we stay mobilized after Trump leaves office, and opens up about his relationships for the first time.

[Click here to listen to the full podcast with DeRay Mckesson.]

Jeffrey Masters: The majority of people got to know you during the protests in Ferguson after Michael Brown was murdered. Up until that point, what did you expect to be doing with your life?
DeRay Mckesson: I spent much of my career working on issues of children, youth, and families. I taught sixth-grade math, opened up an after-school center, worked in the school system in Baltimore, and when Michael Brown was killed, I was working in Minneapolis public schools. Kids were my focus. That was my thing. The only reason I went to St. Louis was because they killed a kid. He was a teenager and I was like, These are the same young people I spend my entire career trying to make sure they have a great teacher, great principals, the best custodians, the best nurses. So, that's what I was thinking about for the long haul. I was trying to figure out what my next thing would be in public education.

When you were teaching, were you out of the closet?
I wasn't. When I was a teacher, I didn't date anybody, I didn't kiss anybody, do anything until my second year in the classroom.

Were you out to yourself at that point?
Yeah. I was out to myself. I wasn't out in the classroom. At home, when I moved back, the brief relationship I had in New York ended. I came back, opened up an after-school center and then I trained and supported new teachers and I was out then. I was very publicly gay then.

In your book, On The Other Side of Freedom, it's the first time you've written about being gay. Why is that?
I didn't want anybody to think that the only way to do work publicly around social justice was to hide. It was important to me to be publicly out very early. I think one of the reasons I hesitated about writing about being gay is that I've lived a pretty public life. Love was the only thing that was mine. It was the only thing I'd never share. People knew everything else. My parents were addicted to drugs. People in Baltimore knew my sister. There was nothing else that was just mine. Love was the one thing that I only shared with the people closest to me.

The hard part is that there's no longer anything that only I have. That's a weird thing about the book. I just didn't publicly engage in conversation about love.

It's been four years since the protest in Ferguson. Have you seen a change in the public conversation?
I think that that's where we won, right? Four years later, the awareness is at an all-time high. People are talking about the police. We were talking about mass incarceration. It's cool to talk about them. Four years ago reporters weren't asking police officers any hard questions. Now now the press is doing that in a way that's really incredible.

The hard part is that the outcomes haven't changed. The police are killing as many people as they were four years ago. And the question is why police just aren't held accountable.

Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think the vast majority of white people would not say that they're racist, right? But with their actions and their votes, they're choosing to participate in systems of oppression, i.e. white supremacy.
Yeah. I think white people benefit from it. So, it's one thing to emotionally know it's bad, and it's another to think, "I might lose my stuff."

What is interesting about this moment is that white people are more organized than ever before and that is a good thing. They're marching, they're sitting in at the Senate. They weren't doing any of that stuff at scale before. It was only people who were identified as lifelong activists doing that stuff, but now it's random moms.

The question is, will people still care when the threat isn't so overt? One of the things about Trump is that he's distributing the pain so haphazardly that all of a sudden, people who never had really been threatened by the government, people that historically have been protected are being deported. More people are being implicated very overtly, and one day that'll end. He won't be the president forever. And, will people still be mobilized in the same way? I don't know. I think that's a fair question to ask.

Are you also saying that all these movements happening right now, like the Me Too movement, are also all supporting one another?
The common thread is that the protests in 2014 helped people see that they could push and resist in ways that people told us we couldn't do before. Think about The Women's March, the Parkland students, think all these things that came after, there was already a framework to talk about it and understand it.

I saw the Parkland kids on TV and it was incredible because the media now knows how to talk and invite activists into that space. Whereas when we were in the street, they didn't know what was going on. They didn't really have language to describe it. They didn't understand how to talk about a march or protest. I think about all of these spaces that Ferguson opened up.

Subscribe and listen to the full podcast interview on LGBTQ&A.

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