Joey Ye

DeRay Mckesson, a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter social movement, spoke last night to a packed audience at the Afro-American Cultural Center about the importance of social media and educational reform in effecting meaningful social change.

Mckesson is a former middle school math teacher who is now an activist within the Black Lives Matter movement, which seeks to reduce police violence against and systematic oppression of African Americans. He delivered a two-day guest lecture on leadership at the Yale Divinity School on Oct. 2 and 3. At the conversation at the Af-Am House, Mckesson responded to questions from the roughly 250 students in the audience about topics ranging from the movement’s relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to current presidential candidates to the contact celebrities have had with the Black Lives Matter movement. Mckesson’s responses most frequently highlighted the power of Twitter and education in advancing the cause of racial equality.

In particular, Mckesson said, Twitter was integral to his own rise to prominence as an activist. He praised Twitter and social media more generally for providing a space for the discussion of issues that have not historically received mainstream attention.

“Social media has become the space where we tell the truth,” Mckesson said. “It not only makes people woke but allows people to stay woke.”

Mckesson went on to note, however, that social media can also be personally hurtful to individuals involved in campaigns for recognition and social change. He recognized that the tool has been used in the past to provoke infighting within the Black Lives Matter movement.

Still, while acknowledging that social media brings out “the good, the bad and the ugly,” Mckesson said that ultimately it “renders the invisible visible.” It allows minorities to tell their own story, rather than have it told by mainstream media, he added.

Mckesson also emphasized the role of education in influencing social change.

“Twitter and the classroom are the last two fully democratic spaces in America,” he said.

He added that teachers who work with young children need to be very conscious of how power is represented in the schoolbooks they use, noting that the history of protest in America is often “whitewashed” in schools, though the roots of protest predate whiteness itself.

Yale students in particular, he said, need to be proactive in expressing their ideas. He encouraged students to make the University work for them and not to be complacent about their learning.

“[Just] because you are at a good school doesn’t mean you will get a good education,” Mckesson said. “You have to work for that.”

In response to a student’s question about the relationship of other minorities to the Black Lives Matter movement, Mckesson said the conversation the movement created has resulted in more discussion of other issues, including those surrounding immigrants and LGBTQ individuals.

Mckesson did not directly address the topic of the name of Calhoun College during his remarks. But students interviewed after the talk said Mckesson’s presence on campus is especially relevant in light of current discussions of racial issues, including the question of whether Yale should rename a college named after a vocal proponent of slavery.

“The only reason the [Calhoun College] issue has resurfaced is the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Lex Barlowe ’17, president of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, which hosted the event along with the Yale College Democrats.

But Barlowe added that she was glad no one directly asked Mckesson about the issue, noting that hearing his broader perspective on racial issues was preferable to discussing issues too internally focused on Yale.

Hedy Gutfreund ’18, communications director for the Yale College Democrats, also recognized the relevance of the movement to the Calhoun conversation, but noted that because the Democrats focus on non-Yale political issues, the organization has no official stance on the Calhoun question.

Near the end of the event, Mckesson emphasized the inclusivity of the Black Lives Matter movement and its push for African-American rights.

“In fighting for black lives, everyone is freed,” he said.

  • Nancy Morris

    “In Defense of Looting,” a work of Willie Osterweil with whom I was not familiar before now (it’s still available online), is a real eye opener which was published at the height of the Michael Brown riots and, according to a Tweet (see attached image) from a putative Yale student Tweeting under the name ShordeeDooWhop, who claims to be a student in DeRay Mckesson’s class, is on its class reading list. According to “In Defense of Looting” we’ve had this whole “crime vs lawfulness” thing backwards. Looting isn’t a criminal activity… it’s a way to have nice things for free, and if you think that’s an amoral position you are obviously a racist and part of the effort to keep poor people down. Here’s an excerpt from “In Defense of Looting:”

    “The mystifying ideological claim that looting is violent and non-political is one that has been carefully produced by the ruling class because it is precisely the violent maintenance of property which is both the basis and end of their power. Looting is extremely dangerous to the rich (and most white people) because it reveals, with an immediacy that has to be moralized away, that the idea of private property is just that: an idea, a tenuous and contingent structure of consent, backed up by the lethal force of the state. When rioters take territory and loot, they are revealing precisely how, in a space without cops, property relations can be destroyed and things can be had for free.

    “On a less abstract level there is a practical and tactical benefit to looting. Whenever people worry about looting, there is an implicit sense that the looter must necessarily be acting selfishly, “opportunistically,” and in excess. But why is it bad to grab an opportunity to improve well-being, to make life better, easier, or more comfortable? Or, as Hannah Black put it on Twitter: “Cops exist so people can’t loot ie have nice things for free so idk why it’s so confusing that people loot when they protest against cops” [sic]. Only if you believe that having nice things for free is amoral, if you believe, in short, that the current (white-supremacist, settler-colonialist) regime of property is just, can you believe that looting is amoral in itself.”

    It would be interesting to know if this Tweet is accurate, if it’s putative author is really a Yale student in this class, and (if it’s not a spoof) how “In Defense of Looting” is being presented by Mckesson in this class. With endorsement? Agnostically? As an example of obviously incorrect excess? Is this Yale class presenting the view set out by “In Defense of Looting” as an acceptable moral alternative? Was the College administration informed in advance of the reading list and how the items on it would be presented by McKesson? What does Yale College Democrats have to say about “In Defense of Looting?”
    Just asking.

  • Sophronia27

    Reply to Nancy Morris

    Lord, where do I start? If you knew anything about the Black Lives Matter Movement, you would know who ShordeeDooWhop is and, for your information, she is not a Yale student. [She did not claim to be a student at Yale]. Look her up.

    Furthermore, as a college graduate, university student and law school graduate, it is simply amazing to me that you not understand that in a college/university setting there are many articles/documents/essays etc. read by students that are not endorsements. It’s called learning . . . analyzing. . . looking at all sides to an issue. Dare I say, it’s called using a critical mind!

    That being said, I just read the article and, frankly, I find the analysis worthy of discussion. The point raised by the author is that there is a context to looting. It is not just lazy, black folks trying to get something for free without working. There is a perception in America is that black folks are robbers and thieves which just feeds into the narrative of the criminalization of black youth. As the author points out, when there is a “disturbance/riot” the media pays attention. How often do you hear about the non-violent protests and marches? I can tell you for a fact that they are not reported as extensively, if at all! Do you realize that in the days of legal slavery, enslaved persons could have been accused of “looting” if they ran away from captors. I mean, they were “property.” I suppose Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman and John Brown would be considered “Looters” also. As the article states, ” for most of America’s history, one of the most righteous anti-white supremacist tactics available was looting. The specter of slaves freeing themselves could be seen as American history’s first image of black looters.”

    And, in fact, were not Africans “looted” from Africa? Stolen?

    You quoted a couple of paragraphs from the article, but not these:

    “In the 400 years of barbaric, white supremacist, colonial and genocidal history known as the United States, the civil rights movement stands out as a bright, beautiful, all-too-brief moment of hope and struggle. We still live in the shadow of the leaders, theory, and images that emerged from those years, and any struggle in America that overlooks the work (both philosophical and organizational) produced in those decades does so at its own peril. However, why is it drilled into our heads, from grade school onward, in every single venue, by presidents, professors and police chiefs alike, that the civil rights movement was victorious because it was non-violent? Surely we should be suspicious of any narrative that the entire white establishment agrees is of the utmost importance.”

    “Though the Civil Rights movement won many battles, it lost the war. Mass incarceration, the fact that black wealth and black-white inequality are at the same place they were at the start of the civil rights movement, that many US cities aremore segregated now than they were in the sixties: no matter what “colorblind” liberals would say, racial justice has not been won, white supremacy has not been overturned, racism is not over. In fact, anti-black racism remains the foundational organizing principle of this country. That is because this country is built on the right to property, and there is no property, no wealth in the USA without the exploitation, appropriation, murder, and enslavement of black people.”

    “White people deploy the idea of looting in a way that implies people of color are greedy and lazy, but it is just the opposite: looting is a hard-won and dangerous act with potentially terrible consequences, and looters are only stealing from the rich owners’ profit margins. Those owners, meanwhile, especially if they own a chain like QuikTrip, steal forty hours every week from thousands of employees who in return get the privilege of not dying for another seven days.”

    “Modern American police forces evolved out of fugitive slave patrols, working to literally keep property from escaping its owners. The history of the police in America is the history of black people being violently prevented from threatening white people’s property rights. When, in the midst of an anti-police protest movement, people loot, they aren’t acting non-politically, they aren’t distracting from the issue of police violence and domination, nor are they fanning the flames of an always-already racist media discourse. Instead, they are getting straight to the heart of the problem of the police, property, and white supremacy.”

    Reading and analyzing this article in a Yale class is what university students should be doing if they are there to learn. The idea that the “university administration” would have to approve the mere reading and discussion of such an article is really antithetical to the purpose of a university education.

  • Threefifths Tes

    Do not drink the kool-Aid.
    Yale’s Lucrative Wet Kiss Anoints #BlackLivesMatter’s Deray McKesson Their Kind of “Transformational” Leader

    Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Wed, 09/16/2015 – 13:20