With his signature blue vest on and smartphone in hand, Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson made his Late Show debut last night on Martin Luther King Day. And he spent most of the interview schooling host Stephen Colbert about white privilege.
McKesson, who is now a leader of the Campaign Zero movement to end police violence in America, also has the honor of being one of only 10 people Beyoncé follows on Twitter. “I think Beyoncé’s great and I think she’s more woke than people give her credit for,” he remarked.
“What’s ‘woke’?” Colbert wanted to know, making McKesson laugh. “Evidently, I’m not woke then.” McKesson told the host he was plenty “woke” when he wore a Black Lives Matter bracelet on his show back in September at the request of an audience member. After the conservative backlash that ensued, Colbert said you would have thought he “slapped a baby.”
“People are uncomfortable talking about the racist history of this country, and what we need to do to undo the impact of racism. And people would just like to act like we don’t have a legacy of racism here,” McKesson said. If “All lives matter” were true, as several GOP candidates—and Democrat Martin O’Malley—have stated, he said people like him wouldn’t have to be out on the street protesting.
“I might be the whitest person you’ve ever met,” Colbert admitted later in the interview, echoing what Henry Louis Gates told him after examining his DNA. “So I might have the most privilege of any white person you’ve ever met.”
Asked how Colbert can tackle his white privilege, McKesson said, “It’s about role, and it’s about access, and what you can do is extend that privilege so that you can dismantle it, right? So you can create opportunity for people, you can amplify issues in ways that other people can’t, and you can use your resources to create space for people.”
At that point, Colbert got up from behind his desk and switched seats with his guest. As the show noted on Twitter, McKesson was just the second guest to sit in Colbert’s seat after Ash vs Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell.
“You can’t have my money, and you can’t have my show,” Colbert told McKesson, so he wasn’t sure what other parts of his own white privilege he was willing to dismantle. While the host said he feels “guilty” for anyone who is not as “blessed” as he is, he was at a loss for ways to mitigate that guilt.
The least he can do, in McKesson’s words, is “create space for the conversation.”