School district administrator turned-activist-turned mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson’s recent interview with the New York Times conveys the hope (and simultaneous frustration) behind his bid to become mayor of the beleagured city of Baltimore, Maryland. McKesson pins his dismal poll numbers on voters’ (particularly those within the city’s organizing circles) inability to conceive of someone like him occupying such a powerful position.
Quite the contrary.
Though the people of Baltimore have made it crystal clear that they want no parts of McKesson’s prodigal son scheme, it’s not hard to envision a world in which his eyebrow-raising pull with Twitter, Teach for America and a slew of celebrities and online personalities could land him in a pretty cushy political office—all because, deliberate or not, he co-opted a movement built and shaped by queer Black women for fame and personal political gain. One cursory glance at his Twitter timeline shows the numerous tweets of support he has garnered in his 1.5 years of activism.
I’d thoroughly enjoy seeing whether or not those same individuals have any knowledge of Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors, but something tells me I’d be met with a multitude of blank stares. And while it wouldn’t be historically unique, in this movement centered at the intersection of blackness, feminism and queerness, it’s simply unacceptable. Black Lives Matter’s Alicia Garza has even penned her thoughts concerning the “erasure and invisibility” dealt to Black women in movement work that is often hijacked by Black men.
But even if whose work McKesson possesses isn’t enough to draw a slight side-eye, it’s what he doesn’t possess that makes his commitment to the grunt work of racial justice seem quite fleeting: an organizing home.
John Lewis and the late Julian Bond had SNCC, and Bobby Rush had the Black Panthers (however complex the tail end of their relationship turned out to be). But aside from Campaign Zero, a policy campaign to end police brutality which has unsurprisingly been significantly less active since he announced his bid, McKesson (rather deliberately) claims no ties with any local or national Black organizing groups. This is more than just an issue of “street cred”, rather it’s about ensuring that anyone vying for political office who offers the perception of representing the Black community actually has an understanding of what they want and need. Police brutality and education, two of McKesson’s strong points, are significant issues within Baltimore, but so are housing, state benefits, healthcare, and a plethora of others.
Even the best public servant can’t represent interests that they’re unaware of, and McKesson should refrain from further insulting the intelligence of the people of Baltimore by assuming that with the war chest of donations he’s received, he is actually capable of doing so.
And while he claims to have always dreamed of one day becoming mayor and addressing the very dire issues within his hometown, his literal last-minute registration for the mayoral race makes it very difficult to believe that this wasn’t actually an afterthought.
Baltimore is suffering from many problems and not a single one has anything to do with a “belief gap”. They just refuse to be used as collateral damage in a young man’s quest to reconcile his desire to help those around him with the need to be recognized for it.
Photo via CrowdPac