Politics & Policy

Step Aside, Reverend Al: The Next Generation of Race-Baiters Has Arrived

DeRay McKesson (Image via Facebook)
Meet DeRay McKesson, the public face of #BlackLivesMatter.

Hours after last week’s shooting in Charleston, S.C., Al Sharpton announced plans to travel to the Charleston peninsula. “The Rev” never showed. But DeRay did.

Meet DeRay McKesson: Bowdoin ’07, a former Minneapolis-area school administrator — and now the public face of “Black Lives Matter.” Imagine Al Sharpton, circa the Crown Heights riot, with access to Twitter. That’s DeRay.

When protests began in Ferguson, Mo., McKesson was still working in Minnesota as a human-resources executive with Minneapolis public schools. He would drive to St. Louis on the weekends and tweet — incessantly. He quickly became one of the most recognizable members of the demonstrations. With fellow protester Johnetta Elzie, he launched a newsletter, This Is the Movement, that pulled in 14,000 subscribers at its peak. In March he quit his job and moved to St. Louis permanently.

But he has not spent much time in his new hometown. New York City, Milwaukee, McKinney, Baltimore, Charleston — wherever racial tensions have appeared, McKesson has not been far behind. Such is the life of a professional protester.

Imagine Al Sharpton, circa the Crown Heights riot, with access to Twitter. That’s DeRay.

And it’s not a bad life, evidently. For their “activism,” McKesson and Elzie shared the 2015 PEN New England Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award, and the No. 11 spot on Fortune’s 2015 “World’s Greatest Leaders List.” (For context: Bill and Melinda Gates were No. 18.) He was invited by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to her (re)launch on Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island earlier this month.

America has a long tradition of celebrity activists, but McKesson is something new — the social-media celebrity. His great coup, in the slobbering characterization of the Washington Post’s Sandhya Somashekhar, has been “unleashing tweets that are passionate and perfectly on message at all hours.” For example:

There is much more where that comes from. McKesson’s Twitter feed is like an African-American-studies course condensed into 140-character maxims:

If such lines contained even a kernel of substance, they might at least be affecting. But this is not Frederick Douglass. This is undergraduate erudition flavored by poesy. After all, “whiteness” is McKesson’s bête noire:

What is “whiteness,” exactly? It’s not a person or a particular set of persons as much as an omnipotent, omnipresent force, the IT responsible for every slight and snub and perceived oppression since the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth:

Of course, the problem with viewing the world, as McKesson does, in the quasi-Marxist terms of comprehensive “forces” and “structures” is that you end up bending the truth to fit your explanatory fictions. For instance, above, McKesson blames “whiteness” for the ostensibly “preferential” treatment of Dylann Roof. He has not yet tweeted out this photo, though:

That is Lee Boyd Malvo, one half of the serial-killing team who murdered 17 people on a cross-country spree in 2002. He’s in custody, and he’s wearing a bulletproof vest. “Whiteness” at work?

Presumably McKesson would have an explanation. After all, he has shown an unsurpassed ability to force every injustice, historical and contemporary, real and perceived, into a single framework: “Whiteness” is wicked, “blackness” is “beautiful.”

#related#Needless to say, that is not likely to create “community,” McKesson’s protestations to the contrary. But, of course, his purposes are best served if it doesn’t. “Black Lives Matter” was never a “movement,” except in the literal sense. Like Occupy, it’s an itinerant band of professional protesters who display their devotion to the cause by going wherever grievances are ripe for exploitation. Their purpose persists only as long as such tensions do. They’re the Deadheads of racial grievance, and McKesson is their id, tweeting and snapchatting and instagramming his self-righteous aphorisms, continually reassuring 164,000 Twitter followers that things are far worse than they ever thought.

What McKesson has figured out, which the Reverend Al never did, is that you need something more than a megaphone and a mob. This next-generation race-baiter has absorbed the argot of the academy, recognized that it is the closest thing to a self-powering engine of racial outrage as has yet been devised, and figured out how to package it for a mass audience. After all, if nearly anything can be filtered through the infinitely elastic abstractions of “whiteness” and “blackness,” there will always be something to be up in arms about.

There is no better demonstration of this genius than McKesson’s reaction to “#GoHomeDeRay,” a Twitter hashtag that began trending this weekend when thousands of South Carolinians — white and black — told McKesson to vacate Charleston:


McKesson responded predictably:

McKesson does not see the world in black and white; he sees it in black versus white. And he’ll bring his circus to town as long as anyone dares to see it otherwise.

Go home, DeRay. And stay there.


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