After a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, America erupted. Police clashed with protestors, cities imposed curfews, largely peaceful demonstrations spilled over into vandalism, looting, and arson, and white nationalists impersonated legitimate activists to sow distrust and chaos. In the midst of generational turmoil, the rapper Killer Mike delivered a powerful speech that balanced historical awareness, community love, and a rage that threatened to become all-consuming. By speaking directly to his Atlanta neighbors, he gave voice to Americans everywhere. And now that his words have gone viral, the artist born Michael Render is using his heightened platform to push that message forward. On Monday, June 1st, Killer Mike called into the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to supply background on his speech, deliver a history lesson, and assign white America homework.
In the first part of the interview, Mike explained his views on Atlantan exceptionalism, and how the city he loves managed to support its black middle class. “If you look at the ’60s and 70’s, black cities like Washington DC, Chicago, Detroit, even parts of Los Angeles, black parts of Los Angeles and Miami — they were prosperous, they were hopeful,” he began.”Through things like redlining, through not developing those places, a lot of cities have fallen. And Atlanta for the last 50 years has managed to be a city that grows. We have black leadership, we have a majority black citizens here, we live and coexist with others. We’ve managed to find it.”
Mike placed that success in context of Georgia’s history, specifically as the home of Alexander Stephens, former Vice President of the Confederacy. As he did during his Atlanta remarks in May, Mike referenced Stephens’ infamous Cornerstone Speech. While some modern conservatives have tried to define the Confederate secession in economic terms — Mike specifically called out PragerU — Stephens’ speech made explicit that the Civil War was rooted in slavery.
Killer Mike explained, “In the cornerstone speech, Alexander Stevens said that we –” meaning whites, “have the innate right to enslave this race of people based on the natural order of God. And then he says “This is the cornerstone of the Confederacy.” This is not the second brick, the third brick, the fourth brick, this is the cornerstone brick upon which the foundation would be built. And he acknowledged that our [United States] constitution made us equal.”
Mike suggested that the anger people are feeling needs to be channeled in productive ways. He shouted out several organizations that he believes are doing great work, among them The New Georgia Project, Live Free, The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Movement for Black Lives, and Next Level Boys Academy. He said, “I am a mobilizer. I will try my best to mobilize people to get into action. But the organizers are on the ground where you live. Those organizations that I named, and many, many more across the country, need your help. They need boots on the ground. There’s nothing wrong with having the anger and emotion and passion overspill that we saw. Because that needs to happen to ignite. But now that you’re ignited, I need you on a weekly and daily basis to join a grassroots organization wherever you are.”
Finally, Killer Mike directly addressed white audiences everywhere. He said,
“What I need you to do is send financial help to some of the organizations I’ve just named, because those are organizations doing it on the ground. Then get your butt down there and help those organizations in a physical way. But what I need white America to do — beyond right now — is understand that ‘right now’ is always. It isn’t just helping in the now. It is being a part of fixing it always.”
He ended with a homework assignment for caucasians. His instructions are to “go to YouTube and google Jane Elliott. Spend one hour watching Jane Elliott teach people — not just speak, she’s not just speaking but she’s teaching people about the racism that is given to them that they aren’t even aware they have.” The lesson he hopes people everywhere will learn is that, “if there’s a riot going on in the streets, you’ve gotta start to understand that now is the time to stand up with the people who are getting beaten up, with the people who are being treated that way.”
Check out the two-part interview with Killer Mike below, and keep scrolling for a video of Jane Elliott’s famous “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” experiment, in which she says, “White people’s number one freedom in the United States of America is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”
Killer Mike’s hip-hop project Run the Jewels will be releasing the new album RTJ4 for free this Friday. In conversation with Stephen Colbert, he described the record as, “like drinking a cup of coffee, getting punched in the face, and then smoking a joint and getting a hug afterwards.” He and partner El-P recently shared a sonic fuck-you to racists, “A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation)”.