Exclusive - Mychal Denzel Smith Extended Interview

August 10, 2016 - Mychal Denzel Smith 08/10/2016 Views: 1,841

"Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching" author Mychal Denzel Smith reflects on the death of Trayvon Martin and discusses the systemic injustices black Americans face. (10:48)

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My guest tonightis a New York Times

best-selling authorwhose book is called

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching:

A Young Man's... A Young Black Man's Education.

Please welcomeMychal Denzel Smith.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you for having me.

No, man, thank-thank youfor being here.

-Uh, I'm a fan of your writing.You are... -Thank you.

you are quite the anarchist,I would say.

You're-you're one of those, uh,those people who is not afraid

to advocate for radical changewithin a system. But, um...

Let's, I guess let's goto the beginning of the story.

How you got into writing.

You, uh, were a 25-year-old man.

And living in a worldwhere you had witnessed

one of the most notoriouspolice shootings,

uh, at the time.

And... you decidedto write a book,

'cause you wantedto connect with millenials.

If you're trying to collect...connect with millenials,

why didn't you just use,like, Tinder or...

I've been advertising my bookon Tinder.

-Oh, you have?-I have, yes, yes.

-Just, like, on the profilepicture? -If you go, you see...

-Yeah, you would see that.-I'm glad, I'm glad, I'm glad.

I'm glad. No, but-butit really was,

it was-it was a difficult time,you're 25 years old--

can you sharea bit of that story, please?

Uh, you know, I'm 25 years old,

and we're all seeing the deathof Trayvon Martin

circulate through social media,

and it's not as ifthis was new, right?

In 2009 we hadwhat-what's sort of

the modern-day Rodney Kingmoment for a lot of us,

when Oscar Grant-- uh, hiskilling was captured on video

and it was passed around,uh, through Twitter and stuff.

So, it was... it's not as ifthis was a new phenomenon.

Uh, but that-that momentgalvanized a lot of people,

and I think it was becauseyou-you had a generation

that turned out to votefor Barack Obama.

Like, young black peopleshowed up in record numbers

to vote for Barack Obama. Theyturned their political energy

toward the electoral system,

the ideas of hope and change.

And here's-here's the thing,

here's the history that we weretold was over happening to us,

uh, and-and the wayin which his life was devalued

and the way in which the-theSanford Police Department

couldn't even decidethat it was... he w...

that his killer neededto be arrested,

like, under the very lawsthat they're supposed to uphold.

And so all of these things comeand-and converge,

uh, and I knewwhat the conversation

-was gonna be about-aboutafter Trayvon died. -Yeah.

It was going to be aboutthe ways in which, you know,

we-we teach black mento comport themselves, right?

Like, the ways in whichthey're supposed to avoid

-being killed, how they'resupposed to... -Yeah. Don't...

-don't wear a hoodie...-Don't wear a hoodie.

Don't sag your pants.Like, when the police stop you,

how you're supposed to,you know, be deferential

and all of these other things.

Um, but that-that one...

it-it denies the humanityof those people

that we're supposedto be caring for.

And that's-that's somethingyou've really tackled

in the book, which is, uh...which is beautiful to see.

You're talkingabout your own life experiences.

You are a young black man.

And at this time, you were 25when you started writing.

Was there a part of youthat genuinely did not believe

you would see 25?

Oh, absolutely.Absolutely. I had...

I... From the timeI was maybe 12 years old,

I was certainthat I wouldn't make it to 18.

When I made it to 18,I was certain I wouldn't make it

-to 21. -Now-now,there's people who say,

"Yeah, but that's because, youknow, you-you young black men,

-it's the gangs. You're-you'rein the gangs." -Right.

And that's certainlya part of the-the violence

that surrounds us.But we have to examine

where-where doesthat violence come from

and what-what is the-theroot causes of that, right?

Like, we're-we'renot examining poverty.

We're not examining lackof educational resources,

not examining the,you know, uh... the lack

of mental health resourcesin our communities.

Those are the thingsthat are contributing

-to that level of violencethat does... -Yeah.

That contributes to that fear

that you're not goingto make it.

But there are other thingsthat are also happening.

I mean, I also, you know,

came of age post 9-11and the Iraq war.

Like, I thought maybe

I could get sent off to warand die there.

I thought, you know,police officers-- there...

And then, you know, GeorgeZimmerman kills Trayvon Martin,

and now you have to worryabout people

who think they're police officers.

So there's all of thesedifferent elements at play,

contributingto that-that anxiety,

uh, that your life is devaluedin a way

that it could end at any moment.

You talk about, uh,

I think it was marine recruiterscoming up to you.

You know,in the book, you told...

-I think you were workingat Walmart at the time. -Yeah.

-It's a really, really funnystory about... -(laughing)

-About how I cursed them out?-Mychal... Well, also...

Cursing them out, but Mychalhad to, um, worked...

You-you had to packa lot of watermelon.

-Yes. Yes.-And so you say...

Like, it was one of my favoritelines in the book,

where you said, uh,"I was... I was...

"I defied the stereotypeof a black man

'cause I hatedthis (bleep) watermelon."

-(laughter) -I hated watermelonat that moment. -Yeah.

I love watermelon now,but I hated watermelon then.

Why...? You know what's...Can I be honest?

I don't under... 'causein South Africa, in Africa,

there is nothing negativeabout loving watermelon.

-I don't understand.-(laughter)

I was just like, "Yeah, but whywouldn't you love watermelon?"

-Why wouldn't you lovewatermelon?! -I don't...

-Watermelon is delightful.-But I don't understand

-how that even became a slur,how... -It is refreshing.

Why would you not lovewatermelon?

And also, you cannot tell me...

It's associatedwith the minstrel shows.

You cannot tell methat the watermelon industry

is propped up onlyby black people in America.

-Someone likes watermelonsomewhere. -(laughter)

Yeah, but...everyone loves watermelon.

-Everyone loves watermelon.-Everyone loves watermelon.

-That's... -There you go.Everyone loves watermelon.

Yeah, but you talkthrough these stories.

You weave in and out of them.

One thing that I really,really latched onto

that I hadn't thought of before,I would say is,

talking about the painthat the black community suffers

-after a shooting.-Mm-hmm.

We always think of the victim

as being the personwho has lost their lives.

In the book,you talk about the community,

the black communityas a whole being a victim.

Yeah. I mean,think about we're sitting here

the day after August 9,the two-year anniversary

of the killing of Michael Brown.

And think about what happenednot just in the interaction

between Darren Wilsonand Michael Brown,

but when the police officerslet his body lay in the streets

for four and a half hours.

Now, imagine a communitylooking at that body,

looking at it bleeding out.

They're... I mean, andbecause they didn't cover him

for so long, they saw him,

and that's sort of the point--it's to terrorize

and to traumatize peopleand to let them know

what their position is,and to let them know

that this, too,could happen to you.

And how many of those peopleare growing up now?

Like those childrenthat saw that

and are affected by it,and we're not thinking about it.

And are we getting themcounseling?

-Are we getting them resourcesto talk through -Yeah.

what they're feelingand how they're processing it?

And so often we're not,because we're worried...

because then we have to move onto the next shooting, you know?

And so that'saccumulated trauma.

That's generational traumathat's being passed down,

and we're not... we'renot being given the resources

in our communities,people like counselors

and mental health professionalsthat are versed in racism

and racialized...racialized violence

and all of these thingsto be able to talk to people

-through this stuff.-Do you sometimes feel like

you're being made to feel... asif you're a conspiracy theorist?

'Cause I-I feel that sometimes.I see that on the news.

You know, they go... they go,"The cops are not bad,

"the police,this is not a bad thing,

there's a few bad cops,"and then you read a report

like the BaltimorePolice Department

where they go,"From top to bottom

this was a problem, thiswas sometimes even planned."

How... Is that vindication,or is that something

that makes you feel,uh, hopeless?

You don't need to bea conspiracy theorist.

All you need to do is readAmerican history, right?

Like, you can see this happeningover and over again,

whereby blackness isat the bottom

of all of theseracialized hierarchies,

that... the functionof American economies

is to have an exploitable class,

and blackness servesthat function.

To... And then the ways in whichthe police are an outgrowth

of slave catchersand slave patrols,

and then forces to stop laboruprisings in northern cities.

Like, this had been the functionof police from...

from their inception.

So it is not a conspiracy,it is simply what has happened.

So the... the vindicationis just reading and knowing,

uh, and hopefully that thatknowing will change something.

And I think that that'sthe problem, is that people, uh,

aren't sitting with thisin a way

that makes them wantto change it.

Here-here's the thing--I-I read through the book,

and there's a chapter where youaddress it really beautifully,

but for someonewho may not venture out

and to read that book,they would say to you,

"Yeah, Mychal, I hear whatyou're saying about the police,

"but the police only kill a fewhundred black people every year.

"Uh, black on black violenceis even worse.

Why aren't you marchingon black on black violence?"

Well, one-- there areplenty of people marching

about intercommunity violence.Um, they're... Nobody's...

Who's marching forwhite on white violence?

I-I want to knowwho's doing that.

Um, when... And... and... and...

But also-- a few hundred?

I mean, that's a few hundredpeople that-that are dying.

Like, that's still a problem.But also, it-it...

we have to understand that allof these things are functions

of an oppressive system.Whether it's police violence,

whether it's that commun...intercommunity violence,

they are productsof an oppressive system

meant to devalue black lives.

Uh, a-and they're also...just the idea that

it's just the deaths.It is the daily harassment,

the routine, quotidianharassment of black people

and black bodiesthat is happening.

And we don't hear about itevery day. And they're... the...

I mean, you go look atthe Ferguson report

and how they're extracting fundsand, like, running their town

on the basis of,like, police stops.

And then, when theystopped doing it so much,

they're-they're under economicduress more, because...

And th-and that's the problem,

is that we don't seethat sort of violence.

We don't talk aboutthe sort of violence of

the erasure of slavery from thetextbooks in-in, uh, in Texas.

We don't talk about the violenceof closing schools

in Chicago and Philly.We're-we're still not even

talking about the violenceof poisoning people's water.

I mean, that's happening.

That's happeningevery single day,

and it's all a partof the same system.

You say you wantyoung people especially--

everyone-- but young peopleto read this book

and go out thereand (bleep) it up.

Yes.

That-that was your quote.

Yes.

Do you think Donald Trumpread your book?

'Cause it feels likethat's what he's trying to do.

Uh, I'm trying to stay away

from Second Amendment people,myself, so I'm...

Because they gota powerful vote.

They got a powerful vote,my friend.

Smart choice.

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching

is available now.Mychal Denzel Smith, everybody.