Kim Crayton: Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene Podcast. My guest today is Jordan Thompson. His pronouns are he / him / his. Jordan, would you please introduce yourself to the audience today?
Jordan Thompson: Hi, everyone. My name is Jordan Thompson. I am an activist and community organizer from New Hampshire, and I am very, very excited to be on. I’ve been a big fan of the podcast, and just been listening some episodes for the past couple of days, and I’m very excited about contributing to this conversation.
KC: Well, let’s get into it. As we always start, folx, let’s start with, “Why is it important to cause a scene, and how are you, Jordan, causing a scene?”
JT: That’s a great question. I believe that it’s important to cause a scene because there is such a need for big, structural, bold, and radical change in our society. And that sort of change does not occur when people are comfortable. It doesn’t occur when people are complacent. And so, in order for that change to come, we need to cause a scene. And I cause a scene by doing something that I think a lot of folx take for granted, and it’s very simple. I cause a scene by speaking truth, and that truth may not always be popular, and may not always be what people want to hear, but the truth has a lot of power and has a lot of substance to it. And it’s what exactly you need to get a movement starting—started, rather. And it’s incredibly important to me.
I was staff for Senator Kamala Harris back when she was running for president, and she puts such a large emphasis throughout the entirety of her presidential campaign on the notion of speaking truth. And like I said before, it’s such a simple ideal, but it has so much power behind it. And when she spoke truth, again, it was something that was not always popular. When it comes to acknowledging the dangers of the status quo and white supremacy in particular, there are many truths that are deeply embedded in the foundation and the bedrock of who we are as American people, and it is sort of uncomfortable a lot of the time to acknowledge that truth, and sometimes it’s inconvenient. But I believe that it is always convenient to speak truth and so, long story short, that is how I like to cause a scene, and I hope to continue that work throughout the rest of my life.
KC: All right, so, I wrote down speaking truth, because this has always been something I—growing up—I got in trouble for. I so got in trouble. I was always in trouble for speaking my truth. Now I’m gonna be honest, in many of those cases, speaking my truth was the absolute truth. And yet, those around me were… I was often told, “That’s not the nice thing to do. That’s impolite.” And so we often got these mixed messages as a child, “Don’t lie. But only in these circumstances do lie.” And then when you lie, then you get in trouble for lying, and it’s like, “Wait, whoa, whoa, what is going on?”
I was just literally in a Slack conversation with a friend who’s saying that her organization knew what they were—she’s frustrated at her company—’cause she’s like, “They knew what they were getting when they hired me.” And I was like, “Yeah, but did they?” Because what often happens—and it reminds me of when I’m, you know, being in the dating scene—I’ve often been that person who guys are attracted to because I’m you know—not one of the guys—but I’m just real. I’m just honest. Right? Until that… I have to turn that honesty on them. And then it becomes a detriment. Then that becomes a flaw in me because I’m like, “Well, but, you see… I thought you liked honesty. Wait a minute, hold up. So you only like certain types of honesty?” You know? And that is what we see so often, people playing these…
So when I said that about her job, I’m like, “Yeah, did they really, really want your honesty? Did they?” Because you came in and you checked the box. You said what they wanted to hear. But now that you’re saying for us to accomplish that is going to take A, B, and C, now people like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! We didn’t know about all that!”
[Laughter from both]
KC: And I just, because I do want to talk about the Kamala Harris campaign, but I don’t want to talk about it in how people think I want to talk about it. I want to talk about it from somebody who’s on the ground, because what people… as you know, most of my audience is white folx. What you don’t understand is our showing up in the room is political, period. And so when I started this, I tried so hard not to be political, I really did. I tried to weave and bob, and I realized that just my opening my mouth, just being a Black woman who is joyous in this world, who is doing work that challenges—actively, in their face—challenges the status quo and white supremacy is political. So I’ve stopped running away from being political.
What I’m… and so I’m saying that to say, I don’t want this conversation to be about whether she would have made a good candidate or not, or you know, President or not. I want to talk about all the ways her speaking her truth as a human and you seeing that. What was that like? Because I can tell you when she had to drop out of the race because of “financial issues”, and I’m using air quotes, because we understand why there are financial issues. That broke so many Black women—professional Black women’s—hearts, because we saw for months how she’d been treated and we’ve been there. And it was on a national, international scale that we saw our lives under the same microscope. We’ve all been treated that way.
And so it was less about—for me—about was she gonna be… I knew this country wasn’t ready for a Black woman, but I was interested in… I love to see her walk into a space, take up space as a Black woman, and stand in her truth, right? And that was such a political statement just standing in her truth. And I just… I haven’t had this opportunity. So with somebody who was there, who witnessed it, could you just talk about what that is? Because you’re a Black man. What was that like?
JT: It was incredibly powerful, and it was sort of the experience of a lifetime. I like to say that my entire road to where I am today has been paved, you know, by incredibly powerful Black women. And I stand—I think we all stand—on the shoulders of giants in that regard. One of my, you know, biggest inspirations politically and elsewhere is Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. She was the first one to do this. She was the first Black woman to say, I am going to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, because I believe that this is a constituency that has been left behind for far too long. And I want to represent not just my community, but the entirety of progressive America in a way that has not been done before. And she did it in a way that was unapologetic. I mean her mantra was, I am un-bought, and I am un-bossed.
And Kamala Harris, you know, we came out with our campaign colors, and we were paying tribute to Shirley Chisholm’s historic campaign. Throughout the entirety of her campaign, she talked about that speaking truth, she talked about, that this is an inflection point in our nation’s history, where we have to really sit down and look in the mirror and say, “Who are we as Americans?” These are so many values and things that we have enshrined in our Constitution and that we say that we’re about, but we’ve never really quite lived up to those ideals. And so with the election of Donald J. Trump being a response to the election of the first Black man President of the United States, Barack Obama, she really wanted to get into that space and say, we have to do better. But we also—there’s so much that we can accomplish unburdened by what has been.
And it was an incredibly powerful experience every single time I had the opportunity to see her speak. Every single time I was able to engage with a volunteer who was excited and enthusiastic about her. And you’re absolutely right on the point about that she was held to such a high standard, sort of with the scope of her prosecutorial record. You know, we have folx in the race currently who never received that scrutiny but were arguably worse prosecutors. And so, when you have a Black woman who is trying to, you know, seek any kind of position of power, these things are going to come up because people are not comfortable with her. They weren’t comfortable with her causing a scene. And she was… she’d face this challenge of, do I want to speak that full truth? Can I even speak that full truth and be considered a viable candidate?
Because—to what you were saying earlier—I think as Black folx, we walk this line through our professional lives and our personal lives where we have to really pick our battles when it comes to telling the full truth. And we have to sort of prevent, just sort of present ourselves in many areas and capacities as people who don’t wanna be stepped on, but we also have to acknowledge that if we were to talk about the harm of white supremacy, we could face retribution. You know, we could face consequences. And so there is that culture that has played into Kamala’s candidacy.
But to your original question, I think it was just an incredibly powerful experience that uplifted me every single day. She was, in every sense of the term, of the phrase, she was a joyful warrior. She was someone who came to work every single day, and she knew that it was going to be very difficult. She had no illusions about the American electorate. And she dropped out when she did, because she knew that she would not be able to take care of her staff, that she would not be able to take care of the communities that we have invested—or that we had invested in—in a way that was that was sustainable through primary day. And you have a lot of candidates that are still in the field now that are not even, you know, doing that. They’re not even living up to that ideal. And so she is just sort of a class act.
But it’s just so unfortunate that throughout the entirety of the primary, she was attacked relentlessly. You didn’t see many of the candidates come out in defense of her. And, you know, we go back and forth on this discussion of party unity. But when it came to her and her record being attacked on the debate stage, there were no calls for party unity. When it came to the misogynistic attacks on her personal life, there was no call for party unity. She was held consistently throughout the entirety of the campaign to a much higher and different standard than everyone else was. And so that was deeply unfortunate, and I hope that through all of our work, we can build not just a Democratic Party, but a political system that is truly representative of the people who give us our victories.
I mean, let’s be clear about this. You know, Black women are the people that are showing up for Democrats every single election cycle. And there’s a lot of a lot of noise, a lot of feedback about how we should “vote like a Black woman.” And, you know, and I’m sure you’ve heard—of course you’ve heard it—but when it was time for “vote for the Black woman,” everyone was nowhere to be found.
KC: And now that she’s out the race, I’m so sick of white liberals, white progressives demanding that we vote for their candidate. The man saying to us if we… I mean, I just saw a poll that 53% of Sanders voters—I mean, supporters—say if he’s not the nominee, they will not vote. And yet, when Black people have a legitimate reason for saying none of these candidates talk about race in a way, none of these candidates have any policies that will come that will prioritize my needs, and ensure that I—or even minimize my harm—let alone not being harmed. And yet you’re demanding of us to follow behind people who are essentially either on the scale of assimilationist or segregationist. There is not an antiracist candidate on the… they will not even talk about racism and harm in the same breath that they talk about any of their policies. It’s always something so totally separate from that and… go ahead.
JT: I want to say thank you for speaking that truth and, you know, because you brought him up, I want to speak to this particular instance. We hear so much—and we get so much flak—when we bring up that very valid point that there is not an antiracist candidate on the debate stage, or any stage, rather. There’s not a candidate who is prioritizing the needs of Black America. There is not a candidate that is really willing to look at policy through a lens of this intersection. I mean, they are willing to trot out their Black surrogates and trot out this academic language to pander to us. But when it comes to actual substance, it’s nowhere to be found. And what we’ve really seen, I think, throughout the entirety of this process is very funny, because after—and funny maybe is the wrong term here—but the midterms, it was all about “vote like a Black woman, we have to make sure that we don’t take this constituency for granted.” But what you’ve seen consistently throughout the entirety of this process is that white working class voters are prioritized at the expense of everyone else.
And I think the best example of that was what we’ve seen in the past couple of days with Senator Sanders accepting the endorsement of Joe Rogan. And not only is he accepting the endorsement, but his campaign is doubling down on it. And so when we look at someone like Joe Rogan—who is an outright racist, who is an outright misogynist—who goes on his podcast and he makes jokes about Black people calling us “Planet of the Apes,” and there’s a 30 second compilation of him saying the N word in whatever context, and he is just a downright deplorable human being. But the message that you’re sending to Black voters and other voters of color is that you are willing to completely throw us under the bus, back up a few times and then some, just so you can entertain the possibility of grabbing a small percentage of his base. And that’s all based on a hypothetical.
JT: …a small percentage of his base. And that’s all based on a hypothetical.
KC: And I’m gonna, yeah, I’m gonna challenge that because I don’t believe that’s… I honestly… OK, so if you follow me, you all know that all white people are racists. So I don’t believe that it’s that. I believe—fundamentally—just because of the things I’ve seen from the candidate—from that specific candidate—and he is so close to a segregationist to me. He—to me, isn’t—I don’t see him as much different from Trump. I don’t. I do not see much difference from Trump. And his followers, or this subset of bros who… There’s an article that just came out about them attacking… newspeople have to have security around them because of these individuals. That is not… and you won’t call that off? Because it also feeds… because the reason I said I challenge that is because he—they—don’t couch it as, you know, this guy is this. What they couch it as is—and which is fundamentally white supremacist—is all speech is equal.
You know, instead of talking about equity, it’s about equality for them. For them, my podcast having an hour long and Joe Rogan’s is an hour long is the same. No matter that Joe has a bigger audience, he has more power, he’s a white dude, his voice carries more, has more influence than my voice. So instead of talking about equity, we want to talk about equality. And that to me is bullshit. I don’t want to talk about equality because there is nothing of equitable… there’s no way I can equal that. Even if I had the same number of followers, the people who listen to this podcast are totally different. They’re not that rabid, “REEEH!” kind of people, you know. So even if we had the same number of followers, my followers are learning a strategy of how to do something to break down systematic… we’re not this angry… we focus on prioritizing the most vulnerable. You know, it’s like we have these different core values, so it wouldn’t even be the same.
So that conversation gets me, but I want to bring up something, because I really want to dissect this with someone, and because you were close to the campaign, that means you read her stuff and her policies. Because I really want to talk about how—and this is where I say—I don’t see much difference between any of these candidates, particularly Bernie, and just how his whole culture that is so toxic to me. Reminds me so much of toxic tech, it’s just deplorable to me.
I did a recent video about how Medicare for All can harm. And I’m just gonna break down for those who didn’t see it. But I want to break this down, and I wanna have this conversation because again, this is not about a specific candidate. This is about a policy that several people are debating, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. So, on the surface, Medicare for All makes sense. It is… healthcare should be a human right. Yes, that makes absolute sense. But OK, I’m gonna put a period on that, ’cause I’m not gonna say, “but.” So period.
The challengers will not even look at Affordable Care Act. And I’m gonna get back. I mean, all this—you know, people—it’s all gonna come together. Well, the Affordable Care Act was an opportunity to get everybody healthcare. Well, I live in a state that did not… I was unemployed. I’ve been trying to build a business. I live in a state that did not opt into Medicare. So although I qualified for health care because of the Medicare thing, I did not get it. And yet, because I could not afford the health insurance, I was penalized.
I’m going to give you that… I’m saying that to put a pin in that because I need people to understand why these are systematic issues and you throw in a policy on something without dealing with the system that you’re attaching it to causes further harm. So you’re now disenfranchising the poor. I already can’t afford to pay for this insurance, but yet now you’re charging me, you’re penalizing me for not having it. I get it. It makes sense in theory, but in the real world, things work out differently.
So now, I’m looking at Medicare for All and it sounds great. And then I could bring up three very clearly, well-researched reasons why it will cause harm to the most vulnerable. One being, when you look at those individuals who are learning to be physicians right now, still in 21st century there is research that shows there are physicians to this day that believe Black people have thicker skin. So our, epidermic level is thicker, so we don’t… because our skin is thicker, the harm that happens to us, it would be more harmful for white folx, you know, if they cut themselves, or if they bruise themselves because their skin is so thin, and ours is thicker. Which explains why Black people did not get caught up in the opioid epidemic at the beginning, because we weren’t getting the prescriptions, because no one believed our pain.
So there’re doctors being trained right now who believe that Black people have a higher threshold for pain even though there is no scientific reasoning for that and have thicker skin. Where in hell is that… where are they getting that if they didn’t learn it in the books? So again, OK, so it’s a part of the system. It is—white people—this is how people think about Blackness. When no one has to communicate it verbally, and then it is still communicated. That’s number one.
The research has shown, when you account for income, when you account for professional education, class, Black women and Black babies are having the hardest time with infant and women’s mortality rates in childbirth. That is over poor white women. So OK, that’s two.
Three is: there are—in the state that I live in—they are shutting down… because there is no Medicare option. OK, let’s go back to the Affordable Care Act. Rural communities don’t have access to the same amount of healthcare or quality of health care that someone in the urban city has. So, just with those three things that has nothing to do with giving everybody Medicare, I mean insurance, that again is about—you’re talking about equality—it’s not about equality, it is about equity. How do you deal with those things? If you’re not dealing with those things, Medicare for All will only be a new policy that’s slapped on a racist, white supremacist system which will continue to harm individuals.
JT: Yeah, I hear you. And you know, it’s important to note, Kamala Harris was the first and at the time, only candidate to come out with a plan to address Black infant immortality, maternal mortality. And since her departure from the race, we’ve had other candidates sort of attempt to take credit for that idea, or to sign on to that idea. But I think to your point, with something like Medicare for All that, you know, I support. I think it’s a good idea, but all of your points are incredibly valid. And why that particular—the points that you have brought up—are not being applied to the current conversation is because when we talk about, you know, systemic oppression, it’s always in a way that is anecdotal. It’s always in a way that is sort of like an afterthought instead of, it’s true that…
KC: Well, it has to be because the people who are remaining don’t have that lived experience. It has to be anecdotal. It has to be theory for them. They have no practical experience with it.
JT: And they also talk about it in a way that is like an intellectual debate or an academic debate rather than something that’s actually affecting people’s lives. And so, this is also something also to notice that, I think many folx on the left view the systems of oppression—I don’t think they really understand what a system of oppression is—and I think that they view racism as something that is some sort of personal indictment on an individual’s character rather than the reality that it is, which is a system that has existed since the very founding of this nation. It has existed for centuries outside of this nation, and it is not something that can be magically cured if you sort of slap one particular policy on it and expect everything to be well.
And racism certainly, you know, wasn’t cured when you marched with Dr. King 60 years ago. And we have to be talking about it in a way that is nuanced. We have to be talking about it in a way that really prioritizes—like you said—the most vulnerable of our marginalized communities. And the candidates are just not doing that. I think the candidate that comes closest to doing that is Elizabeth Warren. And I’ll say that because I think she has enlisted the help of a lot of incredible Black activists. And she has Julian Castro, who I endorsed after Senator Harris dropped out from the race. But even her history with racist problems…
KC: I want to hit on two points. I want to get to your point about they take it as a personal attack. It’s because whiteness is always seen as an individual and everybody else is groups. They’re not… so every, they take credit… if they have any success, it’s always them. We understand that our success is based on the support of our families, that things they have to endure or give up so we could get where we are. And, you know, like our, you know, the “it takes a village.” We come from community. And that’s one of things that I see is failing us right now is that Black communities have adopted white-centric ways. So we are becoming increasingly individualized. Whereas it’s all about me getting mine, and you get there any way you want to, but they don’t understand that it works for white people because the system works for them in that way. It does not, the system doesn’t work, function for us in the same way. So when we leave behind… there’s nothing else, there’s nobody else coming back to get them.
JT: Right, right. I agree with you.
KC: There’s no system that says, “Hey, I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt” or “I’m gonna assume positive intent.” None of these things are in place for our Black and brown brothers and sisters. And this is a thing… I agree with you. To me, Warren is the closest. I cannot get past the Native American, the indigenous… I’m having a hard… Because they don’t, they have yet to address it in a way that that community has said is sufficient. We don’t get to say that she’s apologized and that all is forgiven. No, no, no, no, no, The community which she harmed is the only community that can say, “Hey, we accept your apology.” And what are you doing to make amends? It’s not just the apology. It is what are you doing to make amends for the harm that you caused? And I have yet to see that. And until she gets that, to me, she’s on the—and there’s no shades of gray with racism. So it’s like… oh my god!
JT: I feel you on that. Absolutely. And to the point, I think the other thing is, the story itself is sort of laughable. Because, you know, we’re Black. We grow up hearing our grandmothers and our grandfathers tell us how we have 5% Native American in our blood and how, you know, way back when this person was indigenous, and not for a second…
KC: Did we check a box.
JT: Exactly. Not for a second have I ever met a Black person who has claimed that heritage, because we know better. Why did she not know better? I mean, she was a grown adult, and she was using that heritage as a means to advance her career.
KC: I’ma tell you why. Because whiteness also benefits from systems put in place to help the oppressed. They always find a way. This is why white women are the chief benefactors of affirmative action. People want to think it’s a whole bunch of Negroes running around. No, no, no, no. It’s white women! Because they find ways—this white supremacy, white system—when you would default to whiteness, it sees itself in everything. This is why it gets pissed off when they can’t come in certain spaces. Because they’re like, “What the fuck are you saying? We get to go everywhere! We get to be in everything! We get to be in the narrative of everything. And that narrative always positions us or casts us as hero or victim. We’re never a villain. What are you talking about? I can’t come in? Why can’t I come in? Well, that’s reverse…”
I mean, this is what… that narrative, that plays in my head, is when I see her. And it’s unfortunate, because I do believe, of what’s left, she would be closer to my vote.
JT: I’m with you on that.
KC: And it’s so funny because what I just tweeted this past weekend is, “What you don’t realize is that for many in the Black community, we’re gonna be voting for the Vice President. We’re not voting… none of the presidential candidates appeal to me at all. I need to see who you bring in as your vice presidential candidate.
JT: Right, and that’s completely valid. And I will also say that on the subject of the Vice President, when you look at the polls, who is pulling the best with African Americans? It’s Vice President Joe Biden. And a lot of people on the left—when I say a lot of people, I mean a lot of white bros—on the left are throwing up their hands and they’re wondering, “Why on earth is Joe Biden, Crime Bill Biden, you know, pulling so well with Black voters?”
KC: I wanna be clear, before you… a certain community in the Black… He has a stronghold in a certain sect.
JT: Right, and older Black brothers.
KC: And they ain’t lettin’ go, ’cause they don’t trust your white ass. They’re going with the devil that they know,
JT: Right? Exactly. And that is the best way to illustrate my point. Absolutely going with the devil that you know. Because so many folx, so many political analysts, you turn on CNN, they’re, you know, wondering what’s going on here. You go on Twitter, of course, all the bros are throwing up their hands and wondering why this is the case. But the way that we vote as people is in a way that is about harm reduction.
JT: It is the most simple thing, but so many people don’t understand it. You know, this is a man that we have grown to know because he was Vice President to the first Black President of the United States of America. We saw him in action for eight years in the White House. That doesn’t mean that, you know, that he’s the best on the issues. That doesn’t absolve him of the way that he…
KC: At this point, I don’t even think people give a shit what his point is on the issues as long as he does not get in and do worse than trump with a small “t”, they don’t care.
JT: And the other thing is that a lot of folx in our community often come out and support and vote for the candidate that they think moderate white voters haven’t come out in support for. And I think that’s that’s what happened when Secretary Clinton ran in 2016, why she had enormous Black support while Bernie Sanders was off to the side and calling Black voters conservative because they didn’t want to support him. We stick with the devil that we know, but we also want someone who’s electable.
JT: We stick with the devil that we know, but we also want someone who’s electable.
KC: And that speaks to the fact that we don’t trust white voters when they go in the ballot box. That you have proven to—particularly this group who have—this is a generation. And when people say that slavery is over? No, you’re talking to a generation of people who as children, had to sit in the back of the bus. Who marched, who had hoses and dogs turned on them. This is that generation. And they do not trust white people, particularly white women—well they don’t trust white men—particularly white women who will say something in their faces, and who will go pull the click for white supremacy. Because white women literally breathe white supremacy. They—this is a generation of—if not them, their parents worked—especially if you’re in the South—worked in the white households cleaning. This is very real for this group, this generation of people.
And then I want to say to those people who—and they’re like “But the younger generation, younger Blacks are with Bernie.” Yeah, let me… I want to talk about that for a second. Because I have some theories on that. And it’s because this generation—millennials—are the first generation to be raised, “There is no color. We’re all the same.” They have friends—Black kids—who had white adoptive parents, who they were all in the same car pool together, all of these things. So they have not experienced, or they have not had conversations around race that I grew up with. And this is probably your generation too.
JT: Yeah, yeah.
KC: Yeah. You have not had the conversations that I had about how to go out the house and how—I grew up in the South—you know, how to stay safe around race, because it was, “We don’t talk about it,” in your generation. My generation, we talked—Gen X—we talked about it, because our parents were baby boomers, our grandparents were sharecroppers. You know, this is very close to us. So we have a, some kind of remembrance of this. And what happens is—and I see it time and time again—it takes Black and brown men and women to get out of their parents’—these Kumbaya households—and go into the real world and start working their asses is off—as we often do—and for the first time, see that Becky and Chad are having a different experience than Hakim and Yolanda.
This is… I would say, give these same individuals 10 years and they would have totally different perspective, because they would have totally different issues—particularly if we haven’t made any progress with inclusion and diversity in these companies—about their experience and seeing how Becky and Chad are advancing—and they’re pretty damn mediocre—I have this degree, I have several degrees, and I can’t get ahead. And then they start breaking this shit down. Most people in this group have not hit that yet.
JT: Right. Yeah, and I absolutely agree with you on that, and that’s part of the challenge of the work that I’m currently doing. So some more background about me. I live in New Hampshire; that is 90% white. A lot of my work, I’ve been organizing on racial justice over the past couple of years. And I’ve been able to do that work because of the incredible leadership and guidance of a lot of the Black women that are here, you know, leading the way. But, there is so much to be done, and that is the understatement of the century. But my struggle has been connecting with groups of white people who don’t even know what they don’t know.
And so I’ll give you a few examples. In 2018, I was running for the New Hampshire House of Representatives. And I was sort of running in a primary that was—I was very clearly the outlier candidate. I was someone who was 19 years old in a primary with people who were 60+. I was the only Black person in the primary; the only person of color. I was the only queer person in the primary, and I was the only one that was talking about race in a way that challenged people. I was very much causing a scene, and during that time, I was working with so many groups and with community partners and with organizations, and I got very used to being that person who was only included in decisions when a company needed me for their photo op, or when an organization needed me to fill their diversity quota. And throughout the entirety of, sort of, my young adult years, I’ve lived the mantra of Shirley Chisholm: if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.
And I desired that folding chair more than anything else. I wanted to be in those spaces. I wanted to be a part of the conversation. I wanted my voice to be heard because, historically it’s been excluded and silenced every step of the way. In 2019, I—I am one of the New Hampshire co-chairs of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative—in 2019, we had our five year summit. And of course, My Brother’s Keeper was formed after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin to address some of the socioeconomic conditions that led to that scenario, and a lot of them that still exist today. And a lot of the work that we do is centered around mentorship and engaging with young people, particularly young men and boys of color and communities that are disenfranchised.
And so we had our five year summit in Oakland, California, and I sat on a panel with about four other youth from around the country. And we sat in this room—there were about 250 or 300 kids in the audience—and they all talked about their experiences in their work. And at the end there was a Q&A between us and the audience, to sort of talk about what our next steps would be and how that work could translate to work that they could take on. And so, there was a question that was posed me at the time by a member of the audience about what the meaning of power is. And of course I got that, and I was like, “Of course, you saved the most difficult question on this panel for me.” But I had to sit there and think about it and the answer that I came up with— and believe me, I stumbled—I said, “Power to me is being able to get in the room and get the gears turning in order to begin to change hearts and minds.”
Because I’m coming from an organizing background in New Hampshire. In 2018, I—mostly by myself—organized the city’s first ever Juneteenth event, and the following year, we got it enacted by our House of Representatives and signed by our Governor. And so, I am operating from a position which racial justice work is not something that’s happening statewide. Many folx are not treating it as a priority. So while a lot of folx in the other room are doing really advanced academic racial justice work, I’m just trying to get folx to listen to me in the first place. And, you know, the audience is kind of like, “That’s a good answer.” But, you know, they didn’t think too much of it. And, you know, the entire rest of the conference I was like, “How could I have answered that better?”
After I sat down in the audience, the next speaker was Ras Baraka—who is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey—and he sort of called me out. Afterwards, I was like, “You know what? You did not have to make this point by calling me out.” But he called me out and he said, “I want to thank that young man for coming up here and talking about that Shirley Chisholm quote and how we all should fight for our seat at the table.” But then he said, “We need to move beyond that. We need to think past that. We cannot only operate in a way that is about fighting to get into somebody else’s space, and to beg someone else to let us speak. We have to build our own table.”
And ever since then I have lived in that ideology. I really thought about it for several months afterwards, and I was like, “Yeah, he called me out. But he had a great point.” And I think that sort of speaks to the generational divide among candidates—among folx who sort of view race in a different way—is that this new generation, they’ve seen… I think in some aspects there are some corners of the African American population of the young people that have seen a system that has failed them. Time and time again. That has failed their grandparents. That has failed their parents.
KC: Yeah, they had the historical perspective.
JT: They have that historical perspective; and so, they want to burn everything down. They don’t see any…
KC: And I’m with ’em!
JT: And I’m saying, I’m with ’em, you know, I’m with them, because they don’t see any point in continuing on this trajectory that we currently are of, you know, sort of, saying…
KC: Quitting that is like putting band-aids on on a bullet wound.
JT: Absolutely! And what is that famous at Malcolm X quote about being stabbed and then removing the blade a little bit and saying everything’s OK? You know, this is sort of the life that we have lived up until this point, and there was that sort of a sliver of hope that we got with President Obama, but the white status quo stopped him at every single junction, at every single point that he tried to make a positive difference in people’s lives, there was…
KC: And was held accountable for the stuff he couldn’t get done because of them!
JT: Absolutely. And so every single point, every single history that we have learned about every single year, every single family member that we have been raised by, we have heard these stories. We just want to burn everything down. We don’t see the purpose in being just satisfied with everything as is, and we don’t want to go back to before 2016. That was one of the things that I love that Kamala incorporated into her stump speech. You know, a lot of folx want to bring us backwards. A lot of folx want to return…
KC: Because that was when they were comfortable
JT: Right. That is exactly when they were comfortable.
KC: But let’s be honest—most people—many of these white folx who all woke now did not become woke until November 2016, when they were like, “Oh shit, there is racism! People have been telling us this for… because we have a Black President, but…” No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. There’s a Black man… this is also an issue what I take with in Dr.—which we just as a group just finished reading, “How to be an Antiracist” by Dr. Kendi—and he says that Black people can be racist. And this is where I take issue with him, because he says that Black people have power.
And I’m loving that you’re having this conversation, because when I sat back last year and decided what did I want to focus on? Was it money? No, money does not get me what… that’s something that’s tangible. But everybody with money does not get what they want. What I want is power and influence to change my industry. That’s what I want. When you have power and influence, money and everything else you need comes with that. So Obama had power. He had enough influence, and he couldn’t influence McConnell to do any damn thing. So this is where—because even when I say power and influence—it’s only at the rate—and I’m clear about this—it’s only at the rate that someone in whiteness allows me to have that power and influence, because it benefits them. It benefits them. It’s not benefiting me!
JT: That’s exactly right.
KC: And they can take it away from me at any point. So how the hell do I have real power? I don’t have power—fundamental power—that I can yield how I want, or influence how I can yield how I want. I literally have conversations where, on Twitter, where they’re… I’m in a person’s—usually a white dude’s—DMs and telling them what to say to somebody who they’re engaged with who won’t listen to me. I’m literally saying, “OK, type that now. Type that now. Type that now.” How do I… how could I be… I can’t! I don’t have… there’s nothing about my power that is mine! Everything about my power is given to me by someone else. So I don’t have inherent power,
JT: Right. Or it’s viewed through the lens of whiteness. Absolutely.
KC: Not or; and! It’s never not viewed through the lens of whiteness. Never not viewed through the… And I want to ask this because it’s gonna be an—I think—interesting question, ’cause I have some challenges with My Brother’s Keeper. So I want you to talk to me, because I really see My Brother’s Keeper—and a lot of the things that Obama saying here lately—as… because, like you say, we can’t go back. Obama—and that’s also about that baby boomer generation—there are a lot of people who are assimilationist. It’s like “Let us get in, be like them,” and you’re right; this generation is like, “Fuck that! I’m wearing my hair the way I wanna wear it. I’m gonna be big and have my ass out. I don’t care. I’m just gonna, you know, I’m gonna do my thing.”
And so I have challenges with a lot of what Obama’s saying recently that I didn’t have before because I didn’t understand it at the time. And now that I have more understanding, I’m definitely in the frame of where we are today: that that shit just does not work. The whole parenting… and if you’re not talking to me about how our Black community got here on a systemic level, I don’t want to hear about individuals. I don’t want to hear about individual communities, ’cause again, it goes back to what I said: power and influence. They have no real power and influence to change anything!
JT: Yeah, I I agree. I think locally, you will find in many sort of chapters or groups that are working with MBK, you will find that there is a conversation that is being had that is not as one-dimensional as the national narrative has been. I will also say that you know, during that summit, there was a New York Times article that came out a couple of weeks afterwards talking about what had been said by President Obama at the town hall that we had. He was there with Steph Curry, and we were all on stage, and he was taking questions from the audience but also speaking to a number of issues. And there was sort of the phrase of “respectability politics” that was thrown out because, you know, he loves to talk about—he’s very fatherly, you know? He loves to talk about how we need to pull up our pants and, you know, wave our fingers—and he sort of waves his fingers—at folx who are listening to rap music too loud. And, you know, there’s that conversation about respectability politics that I think is really valid. And frankly, I have no time whatsoever for respectability politics
KC: It’s also about civility, which is optional for white people and expected behaviour for people of color, because it helps us manage our own behaviors,
JT: Right, right! And it’s a tool of white supremacy, and we have to call it out for what it is. And so, I totally understand sort of your hesitation when it comes to Brother’s Keeper. I will say that there are some incredible, you know, young men and boys of color, that are doing incredible work in communities like Sacramento and Baltimore and Chicago and elsewhere, in very impoverished areas. And they have access to resources and opportunities that they didn’t before, and that’s a great thing. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. We have to—and this was one thing that I really love that President Obama talked about during the summit that I don’t think was touched upon in the New York Times piece—is that he talked a lot about undoing what toxic masculinity has forced on us.
He talked about how you know it has given us this very one dimensional vision of how a man should act—particularly a Black man—should act. And he… there was a moment where he turned sort of in Steph Curry’s direction and said, “You know what? You know, being a man isn’t about how bad you can make somebody else feel, or to tell somebody else, you know, you have more than them, or you have better clothes than them. It’s about being compassionate, caring, and being vulnerable and acknowledging…”
KC: And those definitely aren’t emotions, or states of being that Black men are allowed to even have, or express anyway.
JT: So there’s so much work to be done both internally, and in the outside world on that issue. And I absolutely, you know, share your concerns, and they’re valid…
KC: And again, what you point out, though, is that there are no absolutes; these aren’t binary issues. So I’m very happy to hear that a group of Black men are challenging what toxic masculinity—I’m not even gonna to call it toxic—just what masculinity looks like and allowing all the various ways in which it shows up in the world to be what it is. Because of the toxic masculinity is decimating our communities. I mean, Black trans women are being killed by Black men, at horrendous numbers. Because of the masculinity issue they aren’t—Black men aren’t—and I don’t think any man of color is not allowed to show emotions, let alone explore anything that is not conventional.
JT: Speak that truth! Absolutely.
KC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I just look at—I’m gonna get his name wrong—Little Nas X?
JT: Little Nas X, yeah.
KC: Yeah, I knew it’s something with a… I knew it wasn’t just Little Nas. Yeah, Little Nas X, when he came out and said he was gay and he was like, “Duh! Did y’all not see that in the thing?” And then people were like, “So why would he do this now?” And da da da da da, because that’s that generation of like, “Oh my god, you’re gonna ruin your career!” And I love this—and so it’s interesting—because as a Generation Xer, we don’t get the credit for being the bridge between pushing back at our parents—who were boomers—and paving the way for your generation to throw off everything.
JT: Right. And yeah, I agree with that. I got to say, you know, I am so hopeful for the future. I’m a little skeptical and concerned, but I’m also very hopeful, when I see folx like Little Nas X and Tyler the Creator; they had awesome Grammy wins last night. What that means for representation—because representation absolutely matters—what that means for me as someone who’s a Black queer male. I can think back you know, 10, 15 years ago, growing up in Hartford, Connecticut. I felt like I was the only one who… not looked like me, but felt like me when it comes to sexuality. And to turn on the TV now and know that there are so many young people just like I was who are watching that. And they can see that, you know, despite who you are and how you’ve been discriminated against and held back historically, you can still prevail.
KC: It’s so funny that you say that because what I keep hearing is, “They’re just turning people. They’re just coming out of the woodwork. People are making this shit up.” And I’m like, no, no, no. What’s the happening is, there’ve always been closeted people. There’ve been gays and lesbians and trans people all over the place. It’s only now that they have representation, that they feel safe enough to come out of the closet, that they feel safe enough to stand in their truth in public. So it’s not like they’re making this shit up like there’s something in the water and it’s making people LGBTQA. No, these individuals have always been there.
And now that there’s someone—and that’s what I do love about the work that I do—because I recognize that I position myself to be able to say things that other people in my community can’t say, particularly Black women can’t say. So I don’t speak for them. But I do speak on behalf of Black women—cause I’m a Black woman—that, white folx need to hear, because they can’t say it because they gonna get fired, they gonna get reported, they gonna get all these other things. So it takes representation, it takes somebody somebody to go first. And it’s sad that still in 2020, there’s always the first Black blub blub blub blub blub. First Black blub, blub, blub. And it’s like, can we… when are we going to get past that? But you know what? If it has to be, then I’ll be the first.
JT: Yeah, absolutely. I agree with you 100%. And I am so grateful for you and all of these trailblazers in every industry. All of these folx that are out there causing a scene.
KC: Mmm. What would you like to say in closing?
JT: In closing, I would say that this has been a really great conversation, and I really look forward to the dialogue that it provokes. But I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do better, but we have to acknowledge that there’s a power imbalance. And I hope that a lot of the white folx that are listening to this podcast really do the work—that I hope they’re already doing—but to look internally and think about all of the preconceived biases is that you already have, in every, you know, area of life, and to challenge yourself and to—if you’re gonna claim that the label of “woke”, if you’re gonna claim the label of “progressive”—to hold yourself accountable to that standard.
And the other thing is that we need to be making sure that in everything, every single thing that we do, in every action that we take, we are centering and prioritizing the most vulnerable of our marginalized communities. I mean, when I go into the ballot box on February 11, the day of the New Hampshire primary, I’m not just voting in my own interest. I’m voting in the interest of the person that I know in my life that is the most vulnerable of the most marginalized community, and that I think is is really the frame of mind that so many people need to be in in order for us to be successful in causing a scene and making way for the positive, bold, radical structural change that we need to see in this country.
KC: I’m so happy you said that, and that’s a great place to end, because this is the fault, this is the failing of whiteness. It always prioritizes itself, it’s always about self interest, and for us it is always about community. We’re always—if there’s someone in our family who’s the vulnerable, is the most weak, who is gonna be targeted—we protect them at no, I mean, to no end. And I need white folx to start doing that. I need you to… and it seems to you as a foreign thing, but communities of color have been doing it forever, because when we protect the most vulnerable then all of us are safe.
JT: I agree.
KC: Thank you so much!
JT: Thank you!
KC: Have a wonderful day!
JT: You too.
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