Stephen Colbert and Killer Mike Get Real About Race in America

The rapper offered advice to ‘Late Show’ viewers on how to address racial inequality.
Jan 7, 2016·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

With sliding ratings for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, some critics have suggested that the former Colbert Report host is “too liberal” for a broader audience. But that’s not stopping Stephen Colbert from delivering monologues and engaging with guests about some of the most challenging issues affecting the nation. For proof, look no further than the talk show host’s dialogue about race on Tuesday night with popular rapper, entrepreneur, and activist Killer Mike.

In true Colbert style, the host kicked off the segment by joking with Killer Mike, who has long been outspoken about police brutality and racism, about his gray sweat suit and how he got his hip-hop moniker (he’s a killer on the mic, not an actual killer). But Colbert quickly turned the conversation to a more serious topic by asking the star if he thought the Black Lives Matter–related activism of 2015 “has changed anything, at least in our national dialogue?”

RELATED: See Why ‘Black Lives Matter’ Isn’t Just About Black People

Killer Mike responded by asking white viewers to “Google Jane Elliott” and watch her “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise. In it, the former Iowa schoolteacher segregated her white third graders according to the color of their eyes and labeled them as inferior or superior based on that. Elliot created the experiment in 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to help her students understand the ongoing oppression experienced by black folks and how easily people discriminate.

At the same time, Killer Mike added, “If white people are just now discovering that it’s bad for black or working-class people in America, they’re a lot more blind than I thought. They’re a lot more choosing to be ignorant than I thought.” The rapper may have suggested Elliott’s exercise because, as he shared with Colbert, “the same problems that we’re discussing today we discussed in 1990, 1980, 1970, and 1960.”

Awareness of the challenges black folks face thanks to segregated schools, police brutality, and lack of economic opportunity may not be the only problem. The results of a Gallup poll from July found that only 51 percent of black Americans and 45 percent of white Americans rated race relations in the U.S. as “very good” or “somewhat good.”

Colbert injected a bit of satirical humor into the conversation as he asked Killer Mike, who also runs several barbershops in Atlanta, “What can we do? Should white people start getting their hair cut at black barbershops?” After some laughs about how much more white people pay for haircuts, the artist shared another concrete solution: Find a child who is a minority and “help that child matriculate into college” by being a mentor. “Teach them the path you were taught to become a successful human being,” Killer Mike said.