Stephen Colbert’s run on The Late Show has already become notable for the host’s willingness to compliment the usual late-night slate of celebrity guests with a slew of politicians, businessmen, and activists. Monday was Martin Luther King Day, and Colbert marked the occasion by having Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson on the show.
The interview got off to a great start after Colbert mentioned Beyoncé follows McKesson on Twitter, and McKesson replied by saying Beyoncé is “more woke than people give her credit for.” To which Colbert replied: “What does ‘woke’ mean?”
But instead of offering a straightforward explaination of the term, McKesson mentioned previous times Colbert has acknowledged the Black Lives Matter movement. This prompted a conversation about why, exactly, many people get so incensed by the rhetoric of McKesson and his peers.
“I think that people are uncomfortable talking about the racist history in this country and what we need to do to undo the impact of racism,” McKesson said. “People would just like to act like we don’t have a legacy of racism here, so I think people get really uncomfortable with it. But we know we can’t change it unless we address it.”
McKesson identifies himself as a member of a “movement” against police violence, encompassing different names and organizations from Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero. He discussed this platform with Colbert when the host asked him about the common perception that police violence is just due to “a few bad apples.”
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“It’s not just bad apples, it’s a bad batch,” McKesson said. “What we’ve seen is that across the country, these issues around police violence and communities of color keep popping up. We see in Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Michael Brown, across the country it’s been so similar that we know it’s not isolated events, that it is actually a systemic problem.”
After this, the interview took a more personal turn. Having previously asked rapper Killer Mike how white people can build bridges with other communtiies, Colbert continued his ongoing education in racial justice by asking McKesson to help him identify his white privilege. McKesson responded that Colbert’s show and celebrity are examples of privilege, so they switched seats to continue the conversation. Then Mckesson asked Colbert why white people feel uncomfortable talking about race.
“I can’t speak for other white people, but I feel guilty for anyone who doesn’t have the things I have,” Colbert said. “That includes black people or anyone. I am so blessed, there’s always a fear it’ll be taken from me.”
Asked how he deals with his white guilt, Colbert responded, “I drink a fair amount.” After the laughter died down, he and McKesson agreed that having the activist on the show does count as “baby steps.”
The interview is worth watching in full. Check it out below.