Exclusive: Kevin Powell gets real about race in America, Trump and the 'Real World'
“There’s nothing wrong with being angry ... but we have to decide if we’re going to be bridge builders or bridge destroyers,” says Kevin Powell.
When Kevin Powell appeared on MTV’s “Real World: New York” in 1992, he brought an authentic discussion of race in America to TV screens across the nation — and he’s hasn’t stopped the conversation in the 26 years since.
The activist, speaker and author of more than a dozen books, including the just-released “My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand of the Angry White Man,” will host a book launch and talk with anti-racism educator Tim Wise Thursday at Ethical NYC.
“We see it as an opportunity to really have some difficult but necessary conversations about where we are, what we need to do, not just for the midterm elections, but for the long-term future of this country,” Kevin Powell exclusively told Metro.
Metro: How did the new book come about?
Kevin Powell: Donald Trump (laughs). For me, it’s about intersectionality. I really do want to live in a world where there’s no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no transphobia, no classes, no anti-Semitism, no Islamaphobia, no ableism — we have to see each other as members of the human family, of the human race and that’s what really pushed me.
Metro: What do you hope is the takeaway from Thursday’s talk?
Kevin Powell: I see this as a hopeful event and also a way to really let folks know this is not new. This is a watershed period — it’s similar to what we saw in the late 1950s/early 1960s with all the turmoil that happened in our country. A thing I’m excited to talk about is we’re seeing waves of young people, waves of women, waves of people of color who have been disenfranchised in different ways stepping forth and using their voices in powerful new ways.
Metro: What are you most proud of from your experience on “Real World?”
Kevin Powell: I never thought about it while it was happening. We were just having organic conversations — it wasn't scripted, it was just us. A lot of people said they have never heard those conversations before and had never seen anything like that.
Metro: “Real World” launched a new form of entertainment. Was what came after a good thing?
Kevin Powell: It’s voyeuristic and profound. The beautiful thing about this culture is it creates this democracy where people can have their voices heard via YouTube, social media, but the bad part of it is — and I’m speaking as a leader, an activist, as someone very concerned about social justice — a lot of folks are not really reading, not studying or know about history or ourselves, so it becomes this surface-level thing. That’s what concerns me, that’s what scares me, this obsession with celebrity, the obsession with being famous, with being seen.
Back in the day, we were clearer on the role of the celebrities and the folks who are the leaders. That’s been blurred, and I think that’s kind of dangerous — and why a Donald Trump can ascend to the White House.
Metro: How detrimental do you think Trump's presidency is?
Kevin Powell: This is going to set back women, LGBTQ community, black people, people of color. We’re all focused on the midterm elections, but we really need to be focused on all the judges who are going to be hand-picked all across the country saying they don’t want gay marriage, they don’t want women to be able to control their bodies. It’s a direct attack on people and American democracy.
This person and the people around him are completely eroding our democracy. What did all these people, the women, the black folks, the people of color, the immigrant folks die for, sacrifice for us to now be an oligarchy? We should be really concerned about that.
Metro: Can a racism-free America exist?
Kevin Powell: I have to have hope. I have to. Not just racism-free, but sexism-free, homophobia-free, all the isms and phobias that we can name. We’ve got to live our lives like I really do and believe we’re all sisters and brothers and part of the human family no matter how we identify ourselves.
There’s nothing wrong with being angry, but what I say to younger people now of all races, all cultures, all identities is there’s a difference between proactive anger and reactive anger. Proactive is being angry about what’s going on, but love has got to be the foundation for the anger, otherwise it’s reactionary. We have to decide if we’re going to be bridge builders or bridge destroyers.
Metro: Are there race issues not being talked about?
Kevin Powell: I say to black people and white people in this country that we need to work out this dysfunctional relationship between us, and we cannot forget that there are other people out there who are not black and white. There are people who are Asian, Latino, multicultural. It’s not about tolerance, it’s about loving and respecting yourself and learning how to love and respect other people. That’s the conversation I would like to see us having. That’s where we need to go.