Hi there,

If you think Democracy Now!’s reporting is a critical line of defense against war, climate catastrophe and authoritarianism, please make your donation of $10 or more right now. Today, a generous donor will DOUBLE your donation, which means it’ll go 2x as far to support our independent journalism. Democracy Now! is funded by you, and that’s why we’re counting on your donation to keep us going strong. Please give today. Every dollar makes a difference—in fact, gets doubled! Thank you so much.
-Amy Goodman

Non-commercial news needs your support.

We rely on contributions from you, our viewers and listeners to do our work. If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make your monthly contribution.

Please do your part today.


Marc Lamont Hill & Mychal Denzel Smith React to Police Killings of Alton Sterling & Philando Castile (Pt. 2)

Web ExclusiveJuly 07, 2016
Media Options

In this web exclusive on the fatal police shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, we continue our conversation with two guests. Marc Lamont Hill is a journalist, distinguished professor of African-American studies at Morehouse College and author of “Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond,” and Mychal Denzel Smith is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine. His new book is called “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education.”

Watch Part 1

Related Story

StoryJul 07, 2016Marc Lamont Hill & Mychal Denzel Smith: We Must End State Violence Against Black Bodies
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: According to The Washington Post, 505 people have been killed by police across the United States so far this year. African Americans, especially young black men, are disproportionately the target of police violence. Today we’re looking at fatal police shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

AMY GOODMAN: But first let’s turn to actor Jesse Williams, best known for his role on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. In June, he earned a standing ovation when he addressed the BET Awards. As he accepted the Humanitarian Award, Williams paid homage to police shooting victims like Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, who had just turned 14 last Saturday.

JESSE WILLIAMS: We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil—black gold.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jesse Williams. We’re joined now by two guests: Marc Lamont Hill, journalist, distinguished professor of African-American studies at Morehouse College, author of a new book called Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond, and Mychal Denzel Smith, contributing writer for The Nation magazine. His new book is called Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I wanted to go back to what Jesse Williams said. In addition to being a professor and a journalist, you are the host of BET News. You were there that night. You interviewed Jesse Williams. It was an astounding speech that he gave.

MARC LAMONT HILL: Oh, it was. You know, it’s an award show, and so we’re all expecting the normal award show talk: You thank God, you say thank you to my record label, and you get off the stage. But this day, he accepts a Humanitarian Award, and he begins—he proceeds, rather, to give one of the most important speeches in American pop culture history, particularly on race. I mean, he may have said more in that conversation about race and the nuances of white supremacy and structural inequality than President Obama has in the last eight years. It was incredible. I jumped up like I was at a church revival, and shouted out with my fist in the air the entire time. And then you saw actors and actresses and singers and rappers and people who may not be politically engaged stand up, because it resonated with them. He taught America something that day, and it was just one of those incredible moments that you can’t predict.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was before millions of people, because it was, of course, beyond the actual auditorium.


AMY GOODMAN: It was being broadcast everywhere.

MARC LAMONT HILL: That’s exactly right. You have 20,000 people in the Staples Center. You have 7 million people watching across the outlets. But then, by the next day, you have tens of millions of people who are not only watching it, but talking about and debating this conversation and this narrative. And it’s so important. It was so powerful.

AMY GOODMAN: How rare is this in your world—you’re a commentator on CNN, in addition on BET, VH1—to hear this kind of political statement, statement of reality on the ground, and especially by such a star?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Well, from a celebrity is what makes it a little bit different. I mean, I’d like to think that Mychal and I and other people talk about this stuff every day. As faculty members, as authors, as critics, we do this stuff. But to take such a bold stand, to do this in full public view, in front of the very corporate environment that allows us to exist in that space, to do that there, to call them on the carpet, to challenge ourselves, to speak out against white supremacy, to speak out against patriarchy, to do these things in full public view, that’s something rare. That’s Muhammad Ali-like. That’s the Ali tradition.

AMY GOODMAN: And then someone started a petition calling Jesse Williams’ speech a racist speech, and wanted him thrown off Grey’s Anatomy?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yeah, someone did that. I don’t think it matters much. Shonda Rhimes immediately tweeted in response and said, “In Shondaland, that ain’t gonna happen.” So I don’t you think you have anything to worry about, Jesse Williams. But the idea that that ruffled feathers, that when you name whiteness and out whiteness and out patriarchy, people get upset. He did something there that’s important. Again, he took the risk. And only—and more of us need to do that, politically, socially, culturally, etc.

AMY GOODMAN: Mychal Denzel Smith, in the first part of this conversation, we referenced this, but you didn’t get to talk about it. When Trayvon Martin was killed, you turned 25. You said you didn’t prepare for 25, because you didn’t know if you would get there. Talk about that.

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: Yeah, I think that, you know, what black male life in America is, is that constant anticipation of your death, the idea that, you know, what—the violence that—the quotidian violence that we face is such that nothing is guaranteed to you in the way that it feels like it is for your white peers, that every day they are talking about what they’re going to do when they go to college, like what they’re going to do when they get married and have children, and what job they’re going to have and things like that. And for me, I never really got wrapped up in that, because there was never the sense that, past 17, I could have a life like that, past 19, I could have that life, past 25, that I could even be sitting here. So, preparing for it didn’t make sense.

Preparing, though, to face that death, and living in the fear of it, did make sense. And so, the anxiety and depression that accompanies that, that fear, was persistent and consistent every single day of my life. So, and I think that so many of us, as young black men, just walk through that every day, and not knowing how to handle it, and not knowing how to express that, not knowing where to go. And what is your survival script? How do you deal with it? And then, when you are allowed to survive, when you do get past that point that you didn’t think you were going to make it, where’s the—where’s the idea of what it means to create yourself in that environment? And that’s what the book is trying to work through, is how do you reckon with the—reckon with living a life that you weren’t anticipating, and create yourself in the context of that.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what do you think the impacts of that are? You mentioned anxiety and depression. To what extent is it talked about, and to what extent do people have access to resources that might help them?

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: Yeah, so there’s a whole chapter in the book about mental illness and, like, dealing with mental health within the black community. And, you know, the book is about black male life. And I think that if we were to take mental illness and concerns for mental health seriously, we would reframe black male life in so many ways. So, you know, we’re talking about police violence today, and I think the common retort is to always talk about, like, well, what about black-on-black violence, right? What about that? Why aren’t you concerned about that? And I think that if we were to take mental illness seriously, in the context of that conversation, and respond to it, say, “Yes, let’s take it seriously. Let’s talk about the post-traumatic stress disorder of so many people that witness this violence every day. Let’s talk about people walking through with anxiety and depression and paranoia. Let’s talk about how their retaliatory violence is often—could be read as suicidal. Because they do not believe that they have anything else to live for, why would they put theirselves—put their lives on the line?” I think that, you know—and you’re walking through that in response to all of the systems bearing down on you in the first place. We’re talking about systems of white supremacy. We’re talking about poverty. We’re talking about lack of educational resources. We’re talking about lack of recreation and healthcare. And so, when you’re—when that’s the cocktail, what your—your response to that is going to be a lot of depression, a lot of PTSD, a lot of mental illnesses that go undiagnosed, because these resources don’t exist in our communities. And we don’t fight for them because the stigma that’s attached to them, the idea that we need them. And so, that spirit of resilience can backfire in some ways. And so, with reframing black male life in the context of taking mental illness seriously, what we would do is to fight for access to these things that are life-saving.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You’ve also—Marc Lamont Hill, you’ve talked about this as a black mental health crisis. So, could you talk about that and the discrepancy between the African-American community and other communities in the U.S. in terms of access?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Right. Well, so, the first thing is, we have to think about mental health as an American crisis, right? All of us are struggling with this stuff, right? You can’t live in a world that is this shot through with inequality and injustice and violence, and not all have to, at some point in life, wrestle with these fundamental issues. Right? So, that’s an—it’s an everything question. One of the things I talk about in my book is how, again, access to—how mental health plays into all this systemic and structural violence. Right? To Mychal’s point, you can’t grow up around violence all the time and not see it. There’s a four-year-old that sat in the back of a car—


MARC LAMONT HILL: —in Minnesota yesterday that had to witness an execution by the police.


MARC LAMONT HILL: That’s going to affect her life. There was a little boy who lost a father yesterday, who we saw in tears. Now, that’s a normal kind of response. But what happens tomorrow, when the cameras go away, and a week later, when the cameras go away? When Mike Brown laid on that ground in Canfield for four hours, he was surrounded by a community of people who watched him lay there as if he belonged to nobody. They watched him die. The spectacle of the lynching of the 19th and 20th century wasn’t just to kill a body. You could kill a body in private. But the public disciplining of the body—as Foucault talks about historically, right?—the public disciplining of the body is about what it does to other people. So the entire community has to watch him lay there, just like people used to watch them hang like strange fruit. And when you do that, that has a traumatic impact. When you’re in Chicago and you see violence every single day, or Atlanta or Philadelphia, you are subject to a certain kind of trauma. I work with kids from Gaza. I work with kids in the West Bank. When they see everyday trauma, they have PTSD. When you come back from war, you have PTSD. When you live in a state like this, you have PTSD. So we have to think of our lives as dealing with untreated trauma. Sometimes it’s direct. Sometimes it’s vicarious, like when Mychal sees Trayvon Martin die. That’s a vicarious kind of trauma we have to wrestle with. So we need to get at that.

We also need to think about how the criminal justice system doesn’t deal with trauma. Sandra Bland goes into a jail cell in Texas. And the first problem is that she shouldn’t have been there—right?—in terms of how the officer responded to her. The second problem is, when she got there, she should have been able to get out on bail. But because she didn’t have $5,000 cash or $500 bond, she couldn’t get out. The whole point of the bail system is to get you to return to jail—I mean, to return to court, not to punish you for being poor. So she didn’t have the money to exchange for freedom, so she’s stuck there, despite the fact that she had reported mental health issues, and she was taking a drug that enhanced suicidal tendencies. But we didn’t take mental health seriously. And oftentimes with black women, we particularly don’t take mental health seriously. We just talk about how resilient they are and how strong they are and how tough they are. Like Zora Neale Hurston says, you know, they’ve become the mules of the world that have to carry so much, and so we don’t give them the proper treatment. And then, when you add to that stigma around mental health, shaming around mental health, you know, marginalization of people around mental health, religious narratives that say, “Oh, well, you know, you need to take this to Jesus, you don’t take this to your psychiatrist,” as if Jesus don’t want you to see a psychiatrist, too—you know, when all this stuff happens, you end up in a very bad spot.

And then, when you talk about actual access to mental health resources in our communities, and then culturally responsive mental health resources, having somebody who understands you, your condition, your issue, your background, if you don’t have that, you get jacked up. And then, by the time you get to the point of criminality—because 20 percent of people in state prisons right now are dealing with a mental health issue—when you get to that point, there’s nothing there but more trauma, more violence. Then you get out, you still have the mental health issue, and you have a criminal record. So when you have all that going on, you really get in an almost inescapable cycle. So, we have to address mental health, we have to address race, we have to address class. There’s a whole lot of stuff to fix. Mychal knows how to fix all that, so…


MARC LAMONT HILL: That’s the good part.

AMY GOODMAN: Marc Lamont Hill, you not only talk about Ferguson, you not only talk about the police, but you also talk about Flint.

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yes. If you were to take Sandra Bland and Mike Brown and Oscar Grant and Kathryn Johnston, if you were to—if they all lived in a town, it would probably look something like Flint. Right? People can escape state violence at the direct level. But there’s another way that state violence operates, where even if you don’t get shot by the gun, you’re still denied access to housing, healthcare, etc. Here, these people were collectively punished for the crime of being black, poor and politically disempowered. So, when you—so, it’s not just about state violence at the level of the gun, it’s also at the level of the water resources. And this happens because of what? Privatization, emergency management—all these fancy words that really speak to the way in which we have bowed before the altar of the market.

And we’ve made poor people disposable as a consequence of that. What happened in Flint is just the most profound example of civic evil we’ve seen in this 21st century in America. But there are many more examples, because there’s a Cleveland, and there’s a Philadelphia, and there are many other cities where the same thing is happening, where they’re poisoning the water and they’re killing us, and there’s no response to it, because we don’t matter. There’s no way you’re in Grosse Pointe and the water gets poisoned for a year. There’s no way you’re in New Trier, Illinois, and that happens. It only happens in a place like Flint, because we’re rendered disposable, we’re rendered to be nobody. And that’s what we have to get at. We can fix this police thing, but we also have to fix this structural thing. And we can’t do that until we really begin to repair the damage that’s been done by late capitalism.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you talked about Michael Brown and how he lay there for four hours after he was shot—


NERMEEN SHAIKH: —and as though, you said, he was nobody.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, could you talk about why you chose that title, Nobody


NERMEEN SHAIKH: —and to whom that applies now in the U.S.?

MARC LAMONT HILL: You know, it struck me, when I went down to Flint—I was actually coving it for BET News at the time and then CNN, and I talked to—I bumped into a woman named Keisha. She was—she lived in Canfield. She lived in this housing—this housing area. And she said it to me. She said he lay there on the ground for four hours, she said, like he ain’t belong to nobody. And she was referring to the fact that, as he lay there, there was no immediate response, there was no government response, there was no medical response, there was no state response. But even before he lay there, he was in Canfield, where public housing had been destroyed, where public housing had been destroyed not just in Ferguson, but in St. Louis. The Normandy school district has been so far below the standards that it also rendered him nobody. You couldn’t get quality—access to a quality education. So, if you don’t have access to housing and you don’t have access to education, you’re vulnerable to the state, so you’re always going to jail, which then denies you access to a job. Are you a citizen?

That nobodiness isn’t just at the level of the gun. That nobodiness happens before you even encounter a Darren Wilson. He had already been nobody. Freddie Gray had been nobody by lead poisoning long before he was running from the police. You know, everyone in Baltimore is nobody in a certain kind of way because of the rise of prosecutorial power that really denies people access to a fair trial or allow the truth or justice to matter. You know, the entire nation-state is just—is nobody at the level of the militarization of police, when we see what happens in a place like Ferguson, right after the shooting, where suddenly the town that didn’t have dashboard cameras has helicopters and grenade launchers. I mean, suddenly there’s this way in which everybody becomes vulnerable. If you’re not part of the 1 percent, you just might be nobody, or you’re well on your way, given this economy.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Zora Neale Hurston. You’re wearing a T-shirt that says, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” a novel by Zora Neale Hurston. Why’d you choose to wear that today?

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: You know, I just think the title is so profound for me, and just the idea of—that we have nothing else, that we are invisible, that we are nobody, that the only thing that we can turn to in certain instances is that spiritual resonance that something else has to keep us going, something else, that we have to turn our eyes toward the sky, because here on Earth we’re catching so much hell that there’s no escape. And that’s—it’s so devastating and depressing to me to think. I mean, we’re talking about Flint. How evil is that? Right? We’re talking about water. We’re not talking about like—we’re not even talking about school. We’re not talking about like outdated textbooks. We’re not talking about a, you know, jail cell. We’re talking about water. We’re talking about the fundamental building block for life. And it’s being poisoned in our communities. Like how—how evil of a system do we have to exist in to deny people that? How invisible and how much of a nobody do you have to think people are to kill them that way, to deny them humanity in that respect? And, yes, there’s no other—there’s nowhere else to turn in some instances. There’s nowhere else to go, because if our eyes are watching the world around us, we would all just—there’s just no way to want to keep going. So, sometimes you have to turn toward something else that you don’t even know whether it exists or not. But that belief, that faith, will keep you going.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the importance of redefining black manhood, black masculinity.

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: Yeah, and, you know, we were talking about Jesse Williams’ speech, and I think that one of the most crucial things that he said, very early on in that speech, was talking about the ways in which black men particularly have failed black women, and we should do—we have to do better by them. And that’s been missed quite a bit, is that he folded into this narrative around police violence black women’s stories, that often get left out, because we don’t have a script for that, really. We have a script to follow for the ways in which black men experience state violence. Unfortunately, we need one for black women, but we don’t have it, in part because the centrality of black manhood, in terms of what we understand racial justice to be, is that what we’re fighting for is the return of black men to the head of household, in a way, that patriarchal notions of liberation are somehow liberatory for everyone.

But if we were to readjust that sense of what manhood looks like, one, we don’t write out those who are not cisgender and heterosexual black men. I think that those people get rendered invisible often, if you are trans or gender nonconforming, or you are gay or bisexual, like so many of those people get written out of the narrative. But then, the way in which it happens to black women is that they feel like they’re up against not just the state, but black men in their own community who would try to justify their violence somehow, justify not just the violence from the state, but violence within the community that reinforces patriarchal notions of domination and violence and coercion. And so, what we have to do is envision liberation not just for ourselves in a selfish politics; what we have to do is note all of the intersections of these different forms of oppression and violence that we can divest ourselves from.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And your book, which is called—at least the first part of it is called Invisible Man. Is that at least in part derived from Ralph Ellison’s canonical text? And then you say, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching. Could you explain what you mean?

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: Yeah, so the title is a Mos Def lyric. It’s _Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching.” And in the song, what he does is chart the existence of black men through labor and commerce and music and land in the—you know, in 1999, in that moment, with the globalization of hip-hop, you know, the biggest cultural export from the U.S. at this time, and the way in which we’re positioned, the men deemed invisible by Ralph Ellison—right?—taking that concept of being invisible to the world, that people do not care about the interior of your life and your humanity, your existence, unless you are being used in certain ways, or you’re being—like we’re re-establishing hierarchies, to take those people and then just put them on a stage in which everyone has access to them now and their stories and what they’re saying to the world. And that—the title, again, speaks to the literal invisibility of folks like Trayvon Martin. Before February 26, 2012, we do not—most of us don’t know who he is. Right? He’s not known outside of the Miami and Sanford communities that he comes from. But then George Zimmerman kills him, and now we have like cameras there. We want to see Trayvon. We want to know who he was, what he was interested in. We want to know him as a person. But for some people, they wanted to project all of their ideas about who black men are onto him to reaffirm the idea of his—his being dangerous and a threat. And so, what I was trying to do with the book is to discuss the nuances of black male life, because Trayvon Martin didn’t get a chance to do that. That opportunity was robbed from him to really know himself, to create himself in this world, to know what his position was, to know how he would interact with the world around him. George Zimmerman took that opportunity away from him. And so many black boys get that opportunity taken away from them. So, what does it look like to be invisible, and then to come into your own and try to shape a self?

AMY GOODMAN: What was your reaction when you heard George Zimmerman was auctioning off the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin? If he didn’t get enough money for it, he would bequeath it to his children or grandchildren.

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: A lot of expletives. That was my reaction. I think, you know, George Zimmerman is such a disease, to me, but, I mean, he’s a product of these systems and this culture that devalue black life, that he thinks he can get away with it. I think that that’s my problem, is that he thinks and knows that there will be a reaction to him, no matter what he says, that—and that he can be this vile because of—because Trayvon is a nobody to us—right?—because Trayvon is such a symbol for so many of us that he’ll rile up our—this fervor in us once again. But also, for the—for folks who see Trayvon as an emblem of all of the things that they know about black men, to be thugs, to be underserving of life and humanity, he knows that they will be on his side. And he knows that he’ll create this conversation around himself that speaks to something deeper in our culture that devalues black life, that we continue to chase after that.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, I wanted to go to the question of whether you think we’re at a tipping point, if we’re at a point of real transformation. Marc Lamont Hill?

MARC LAMONT HILL: I sure hope so. I sure hope so. August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was killed. He wasn’t the first person that was killed. He wasn’t the first person that week, that month, that was killed, or even lynched. But there was something about that moment where people said they had enough, and it led to August 28, '63, when you have the “I Have a Dream” speech, and you have a kind of mobilization of at least bourgeois liberal civil rights activism. I think August 9, 2014, may have been our generation's moment. People have been killed before. Oscar Grant had been killed before. Sean Bell had been killed before. But there was something about that moment in Ferguson that seemed to be a tipping point. It led to the creation of organizations, movements, and really the most long-standing resistance movement against state violence that we’ve ever seen in American life. So I believe that the resistance has been mobilized since the death of Mike Brown. And because of that, we’re able to put a spotlight on a Renisha McBride, on a Rekia Boyd, on a Sandra Bland, etc., and we can do it today.

So, the next step is, as we vote for not just our president, you know, but also state government, local government, as we begin to think about who’s going be in our police departments, as we begin to think about what policy looks like, as we begin to change our public narratives around policing and dislodge ourselves from the default position that police are always right and that people are always wrong, with or without videotape, as we begin to make those changes, I believe we’re at—I believe the tipping point is here. And I believe we’re making change. And I’m committed to the belief. I have to, because, like Mychal said, if I didn’t believe this, my eyes weren’t looking elsewhere, I would just be ready to go every day. But because I believe in us, I believe in the people, and I believe in the possibility of radical revolutionary change, I think we’re here, I think the time is now, and I think we’re going to see a radical change in this world.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mychal?

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: I think it’s important to note the dates that Marc said. Right? 1955 to 1963. We have to understand that it doesn’t happen immediately. Right? We have to know that even when we experience something that feels like a tipping point, that white supremacy does everything that it can to protect itself, and that systems of oppression will do everything that they can to perpetuate themselves, and we are in for a long fight. And really, what we have to also be willing to accept is that we may not be the beneficiaries of that fight. Right?


MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: We are not going to all see the end of these systems in our lifetime. And we have to be OK with that. But we have to know that the fight is worth it, because—because it’s just, because it’s right, but because we’re looking out for future generations, and we’re not making it about ourselves. We know that the fight is long, and it’s hard, but it’s worth it every single day.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, very quickly, before we end, Marc Lamont Hill, could you talk about the rise and popularity of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, in the context of the arguments you make in your book?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Yeah. I think—again, I think we often retreat to simplistic arguments about Donald Trump, you know, that he is just a charismatic leader who people like because of our obsession with celebrity—that’s partly true—that he has a voting base that’s made up of people who are just uneducated and racist—and that’s partly true. But there’s something else at play here. Donald Trump emerges at a moment where an entire kind of group of Americans, particularly white Americans, have been sort of marginalized by the American economy, by late capitalism. Jobs are no longer here. At the very same moment, they’re looking for opportunities. They’re looking for a way to explain themselves. In the same way that we construct these narratives of radicalization in the Middle East and we talk about people who are economically depressed and vulnerable, and then suddenly someone comes with a plan, someone comes with an agenda, someone comes with a movement, that’s Donald Trump. Donald Trump has essentially radicalized white men in the South, and now oftentimes in the North, who were economically vulnerable, to convince them that the problem is Obama, that the problem is black people, the problem is Mexicans, the problem are Arabs, the problem are Muslims. And as a result, they’re able to kind of enter a space that they otherwise would not. And the fact that we’re able to have these conversations with a straight face, right? It’s July of 2016; we’re a few months away from a presidential election, and Donald Trump is still hanging in there, because there are people who are invested in this.

We have a deeper problem here. Part of it is white supremacy and racism. Donald Trump is able to articulate that. In some sense, they’re ventriloquating him, right? These white supremacists are able to look on TV and see him saying and doing the things that they’ve always wanted to say and do. But there’s a deeper question here, which is: What does it mean for people who are looking to be made whole economically, socially, culturally, to look to a Donald Trump? That’s a dark moment. Donald Trump is exactly what the Republican Party deserves. This is what they’ve been playing to. They’ve been playing to the cheap seats for eight years. They’ve been playing—longer than that, really, when you talk about the kind of anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican sentiment, when you talk about this obsession with the free market, an unchecked free market. All of these things create the kind of narrative for a Donald Trump to emerge. And Donald Trump is now giving them exactly what they want, to their own terror, in some ways. So I’m sort of happy to see that. But I’m more excited to see a real left-wing movement emerge. I happen to be a supporter of Jill Stein and a Green Party advocate, because I want to see another world. I want to see another set of possibilities. And I think the Donald Trump moment may be so far to the other end that we finally snap back, take hold of our democracy again, reimagine what freedom and justice look like, organize and mobilize and galvanize in such a way that we can actually have a bigger, more robust freedom dream.

AMY GOODMAN: Does it surprise you, Mychal, that we are talking about the Ku Klux Klan in this presidential election year of 2016? And your thoughts on Donald Trump?

MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH: The idea of white supremacy and naming it in the most visceral form that we can, that we can have, doesn’t surprise me, because, as limited as an Obama presidency is, I think the response to him is inevitable, and that was that Donald Trump was an inevitable rise, right? The social movements that rise up during the Obama presidency—we talk about Occupy, we talk about the DREAMers, we talk about Black Lives Matter—when people then perceive those movements as trying to take something away from them, particularly aggrieved white men who believe America to be their birthright, believe that something is being taken away from them because other people are rising up demanding their rights, they’re going to turn to the person that’s speaking to their issues, right? And Donald Trump embodies the backlash. He is a billionaire using white nationalist language and talking about building a wall along Mexico. Right? So, he embodies everything that they would like to see happen to this country, because they feel it’s slipping away, slipping out of their grasp. And like the avatar of Barack Obama is just the thing that tipped them over, is that the highest office in the land was taken over by Barack Hussein Obama—right?—like, a man who wasn’t even born here. “That radical Muslim socialist is taking away my country.” And so, it’s not surprising, if you look at the long arc of American history, to note that when there is progress, there’s inevitably a backlash. There’s the way in which the aggrieved white male class rallies to protect, again, what they perceive to be their birthright.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Marc Lamont Hill has a new book out; it is called Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond—journalist, distinguished professor of African-American studies now at Morehouse College in Atlanta, also a commentator on CNN and a host of BET News and VH1 News. And thank you so much to Mychal Denzel Smith. His new book, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education. He is a Knobler fellow at The Nation Institute, contributing writer for The Nation magazine. This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

Marc Lamont Hill & Mychal Denzel Smith: We Must End State Violence Against Black Bodies

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation