Last night on The Late Show, Stephen Colbert brought activist/Fortune “Greatest Leader”/rare-Beyoncé-Twitter-followee DeRay McKesson onto the show to discuss Black Lives Matter, Campaign Zero — McKesson’s “ten point platform to end police violence” — white privilege, and how the recent Democratic Debate addressed it. (McKesson notes that this was the first time Hillary had brought up white privilege directly during a debate, and meanwhile that Martin O’Malley “still has some work to do.)
At the beginning of their dialogue, McKesson describes Beyoncé as “woke,” and Stephen Colbert announces that he doesn’t know what “woke” means. Thus begins the interview that leads Colbert — and intends to lead audiences — to heightened wokeness, with Colbert attempting hyperawareness of his whiteness and privilege — and of course the intersection of the two.
Colbert’s approach seemed to be geared more towards shaking the casual/not-so-casual racist complacency of the ignorant (those who posted “#AllLivesMatter” on social media) rather than about having an in-depth conversation about the specifics of, say, Campaign Zero. The host begins by asking basic questions about the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fact that it made so many white people uncomfortable.
“People are uncomfortable about talking the racist history of this country and what we need to do to undo the impact of racism,” says McKesson. “But we know that we can’t change it unless we address it, right?”
Colbert mentions the knee-jerk semantic opposition to the movement — again, the fact that even some democratic candidates like Martin O’Malley responded to it with “All Lives Matter.” McKesson says that “it’s such a distraction — we know that if All Lives Matter was true, we wouldn’t have to be on the streets.”
Colbert continues to play devil’s advocate, asking, “Will you admit that being a policeman is a dangerous occupation?”
“I think there are many dangerous occupations in this country,” says McKesson. “The police have the power to kill people. That means they have a different responsibility and accountability that is not present right now. They kill people and they aren’t accountable for that — we haven’t seen many indictments or convictions across the country, and that isn’t okay.”
Colbert brings up the fact yesterday was MLK Day, and asks about how today’s civil rights movement compares to that of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s time. McKesson says:
People misremember King today — they remember the safe King, they don’t remember the radical revolutionary King. He talked about redistribution of wealth and economic justice. He was much more aggressive than the dream that people remember. What’s different about the Civil Rights movement is technology…which has accelerated the pace of organizing in ways that are really powerful.
Towards the end of the interview, Colbert questions how to dismantle his own white privilege — and even the way it may speak to the current interviewer/interviewee dynamic — and switches seats with McKesson.
Watch the full interview: