Atlanta hip-hop veteran Killer Mike (real name: Michael Render) is a member of Run the Jewels and a solo artist whose outspoken social commentary led to his lecture on race relations at MIT on April 24, and an invitation from Arianna Huffington to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner the following night — during which rioting broke out in Baltimore. Mike, 40, shares his thoughts.
When I first heard I’d been invited to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I thought my publicist had gone insane. Surely it must be a mistake, but it was real. When they said I couldn’t bring a guest, I said, “I ain’t going.” But my wife, Shay, said, “You’re taking your black ass to the White House.”
So I got all dressed up in a rented tux, like a chubby kid at prom. When I arrived at the dinner, I had no idea who to look for, so I hugged the bar and tried to calm my nerves. But Shay, God bless her, called and got Arianna Huffington’s team to find me. Once this happened, the night became a whirlwind: I went from being bewildered on the red carpet to having my hand grabbed by Arianna and introduced to everyone as her personal guest. Needless to say, she can work a room — this woman has game! She informed folks that I will be writing for the site (I didn’t know that, but was glad to hear it), and introduced me to everyone from Walt Frazier and Neil deGrasse Tyson to Jane Fonda and Wolf Blitzer. I met Patriots coach Bill Belichick and got him to smile for a selfie (I’d heard he hadn’t smiled since the ’90s). I bumped into Nancy Pelosi, who asked, “Remember me?” from a chance meeting at the Denver airport. (“Damn, she remembered me,” I thought.) Someone tried to introduce me to Michael Bloomberg, but I declined.
During dinner, I sat with three Huffington Post writers: Sam Stein (who’d suggested to Arianna that I come), Ryan Grim and Jennifer Bendery. But before we started drinking and heckling – my table was the one yelling “F— it!” when President Obama talked about his “bucket list” – the conversation was serious. I said that Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad are the only two black men who have created successful, self-contained economic movements, and while I don’t follow Muhammad’s policies — or any religion’s — I acknowledge them. Black people need to share collective dollars and demand equal representation, and the way you do that is by putting money behind candidates. Leave it to me to talk Pan-Africanism in such a setting.
I tweeted and Instagrammed so my fans could share this incredible night — and as I followed social media, I saw that Baltimore was burning. As I sat there and watched my timeline, I felt helpless, hopeless: “Here I am at this lavish event — the most powerful man in the world is black, and people like him are being killed by the citizens who are paid to protect them.” I left the dinner numb.
And in the days since, I’ve watched Geraldo Rivera and Blitzer pander to the audiences of oppression on TV. Rivera was approached by a very sensible man who said, “Why are you here? Not to cover a calm and peaceful protest — you’re here to sensationalize it.” Rivera turned his back on him, and at first I thought it was arrogance, but I think it was actually shame. And Blitzer, as Jon Stewart pointed out, said he never thought he’d see such violence again in America, and he said nearly the exact same words about Ferguson a few months ago. I turned away from the TV with far less respect for him — if I were introduced to him today, I’d walk away.
I’m grateful to have been invited to the dinner. But as I got into the car at the night’s end, and the driver played “Pressure,” a song by me and Ice Cube, I could not help but wonder if this country will ever truly be what is promised in our Constitution for people who look like me.