Rapper Killer Mike on Protests: ‘The State Needed This Reality Check'

Mike Render, aka Killer Mike, is a Grammy Award-winning rapper, businessman and activist. He made his musical debut on Outkast’s 2000 LP "Stankonia." The Atlanta native hosts the Netflix series “Trigger Warning With Killer Mike,” has released five albums as a solo artist and four albums with Run the Jewels, owns barbershops and co-owns Bankhead Seafood with rapper T.I. Harris. Render has been an activist since he was 15 years old and has since been working for the betterment of his community on issues such as the decriminalization of marijuana, restorative justice programs and combating violence. He championed the Bank Black program in 2016, which resulted in an estimated $60 million moved to Black-owned banking institutions. Render is a family man – a proud husband and father to four children. 

This is the 14th part of a series where civil rights leaders, cultural influencers, advocates and critical thinkers explain race relations, societal change, community protest and the political awakening happening in the United States following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans. The group, including NAACP President Derrick Johnson and #OscarsSoWhite Creator April Reign, pose their thoughts on race relations during the summer of 2020 and how America may move forward less divided. Join the conversation on social media using #PassTheMic.

Killer Mike, Rapper, Businessman and Activist

Killer Mike
Steve West
Photo by Steve West

The state needed this reality check. The oligarch class became too comfortable and the people are pushing back.

Killer Mike

Q: How would you describe the civic unrest occurring in America right now?

A: It is a culmination of angst and anger that has been bubbling for at least the last 30 years of my life. I am encouraged to see a coalition of people who do not all look alike – Black, white, Latino, Asian, Indian, Amish – coming together. The state needed this reality check. The oligarch class became too comfortable and the people are pushing back. Since 9/11, the American people have been told what to do and have trusted the government. This moment is imperative for our country to progress. People are not satisfied and are forcing the country to progress.

Q: Is this a fleeting moment or have we reached an inflection point where lasting change is possible?

A: It can be a fleeting moment if we do not plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize. If we look at this as part of a protracted struggle, then we will see it as a continuation of a movement for justice.

Q: Is there another moment in history that relates to the moment we are living through now?

A: People would argue the 60s, the labor movement, the abolitionist movement, the suffrage movement. In my lifetime, I have never seen so many people who are different – culturally and ethnically -- organize as effectively together. I am a young man in the movement so this is the first time I have seen this in my lifetime. Eugene Debs was a white man. Lucy Parsons was a Black woman. This leaves me hope-filled.

A civil rights activist, attorney and writer explain race relations, societal change and the political awakening happening in the United States following the tragic death of George Floyd. When it comes to race, “systemic problems have plagued the nation for not only decades, but for centuries,” says Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The summer of 2020 is proving to be a moment for multiracial coalitions to come together, according to Fatima Goss Graves, TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund co-founder and National Women’s Law Center president and chief executive officer. Bestselling author George Johnson explains the revolution is being televised.

Q: What specifically needs to happen for Black lives to matter in the United States?

A: I do not think the United States cares about Black lives mattering.

Q: What does social justice mean to you personally and why should others care?

A: Social justice means that all people’s human rights are respected, first and foremost. Social justice means that everyone’s rights are respected, upheld and honored. It means that everyone can enjoy the promise of the constitutional rights of this country. Black people have never enjoyed our full constitutional rights. Until all Americans enjoy all rights, we are not a socially just society. Having a clause in the 13th Amendment that still allows slavery is not socially just. Not being able to marry the person or persons who you want is not just. The quality of schools being determined by the local tax base is not socially just. Until we are all on the same page, and given the same opportunities for freedom, we’re not a socially just country. When people in jail for marijuana convictions can look out their cell windows and see corporations profiting from the very thing that got them locked up, we know we are not a socially-just country.

Q: What solutions will heal racial divisions and disparities?

A: I think Jane Elliott’s Blue-Eyed experiment should be taught to kids as young as 4 years old and should be refreshed through elementary, middle and high school. To heal racial divisions and disparities you also must have economic justice. When you talk about racial justice – I do not give a s**t if you like me or not – I want to know if I can get a home loan, is redlining occurring. Will I get a call back if my name is Jamaal? In addition, to heal racial divisions, you need to know people and be in a relationship with people who do not look like you. You need to know what it feels like to be discriminated against, which is why Jane Elliott’s work is so important. If we ensure that the systems that uphold racial injustice are cut out like cancer, we will heal divisions and disparities. If we re-situate the systems of injustice, we will heal divisions and disparities. The biggest tragedy is that poor white people in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, do not know that the same systems that keep Black people at bay are the systems keeping them poor.

Q: How do you feel about the future?

A: Today, optimistic. Yesterday, pretty bleak. If we plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize, we can progress. If we are unwilling to do that, humanity will crumble. We are self-destructive. We allow the state to become authoritarian or gods. My fear is we will f*** it up. Only we can change that.

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