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What I Discovered From Kevin Alexander Grey

In July 2015, when two Black Lives Matter activists challenged liberal candidates operating for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, the late Kevin Alexander Grey instructed me in an interview, “All candidates should have an agenda that offers with the problems that the Black group are grappling with proper now, to incorporate police violence, to incorporate economics, to incorporate all the problems that the Black Lives Matter activists raised.”

Grey didn’t let anybody off the hook, together with Vermont’s impartial Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had launched his first presidential marketing campaign and was thought of probably the most left-leaning candidate. “They ought to rent Black individuals to advise them of their campaigns,” he stated, “as a substitute of simply organizing a gaggle of white males, which Bernie Sanders is responsible of doing too, and letting these individuals attempt to filter what it’s that the candidates get.”

Grey was a longtime civil rights activist and the writer of a number of books, together with Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The Fundamentals of Black Politics (2008), and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence (2014). He passed away on March 7, 2023, of a coronary heart assault.

Throughout the 2015 interview, Grey echoed what many Black thinkers of the time have been demanding of Sanders: Give racial justice as a lot weight as financial justice, as a result of the 2 are so intimately linked, and failing to take action means accepting a racist established order.

It was typical of Grey to forcefully make such connections, to have an intersectional lens, and to decide on his values and beliefs over what pundits deemed was the sensible factor to do. It’s why I interviewed him many occasions over my journalism profession, and it’s what I’ll miss most about him.

A few decade later, the concept of “racial capitalism” started to be taken extra critically. However it was the evaluation of Black thinkers like Grey, who had the good thing about an extended arc of political activism, that pushed the concept ahead, and that uplifted the financial justice calls for of youthful Black activists, like these main the Black Lives Matter motion. At present, Sen. Sanders routinely calls out structural racism. He and different white liberal leaders needed to be pushed into doing so.

Grey, who was campaign manager in South Carolina for Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential run, had additionally been vital of the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama. The primary time I spoke with Gray was in July 2010, when the Obama administration fired an African American official named Shirley Sherrod from her place on the Division of Agriculture due to a right-wing effort to misrepresent a speech she made.

As common, Grey didn’t mince phrases. He stated to me, “I’m a Black man in America. This nation is eaten up with racism and white supremacy—which is the opposite time period nobody ever appears to wish to use.” It might be not less than six years earlier than the phrase “white supremacy” lastly turned generally used to clarify the rise of Donald Trump’s white nationalist management.

However in 2010, Grey decried what he stated was being dubbed “post-racialism,” and “the sanitization of American historical past whereas Barack Obama is president.”

His evaluation was direct but additionally nuanced. “We should always defend [Barack Obama] when the assault is about him being Black and being Black as a disqualifier for being president or something, as a result of that’s structural racism and white supremacy, as a result of that’s an assault in opposition to us.”

Grey was not swayed by grand rhetoric. When Obama gained reelection in 2012, analysts and pundits regaled his 2013 inauguration speech as unleashed from the constraints of campaigning. The New York Instances known as it “evolved and unapologetic.” However after I turned to Gray for evaluation, he stated, “I hear pundits and everybody lauding it as a progressive manifesto, but it surely’s removed from that.”

“You’ve obtained the jail industrial complicated being fed by poor individuals, poor Black youngsters. … What the Black group wants and what poor individuals want are jobs packages,” stated Grey. “And people packages aren’t going to be forthcoming from this administration or this Congress simply because they’re speaking about chopping.”

In response to Obama uplifting sacrosanct authorities packages, like Social Safety and Medicare, in his speech, Grey identified that the Bowles-Simpson commission—convened in 2010 by none apart from Obama—had advisable cuts to such packages and advisable elevating the eligibility age for Social Safety to 67. Grey stated, “I’m a 55-year-old Black man. The common life span of a Black man is 67. So why would you begin there?”

(The truth is, Grey was 65 when he died—a undeniable fact that hit me laborious as I listened to his archival interview.)

Grey requested about Obama’s second time period, “Is he going to affirmatively defend FDR’s New Deal and Social Safety, and a pension for individuals once they get outdated, or is he going to present all of it as much as the Republicans? That’s the fundamental legislative and coverage query earlier than we cheer and rejoice a line in a speech!” In the long run, Grey was proper to query the president’s motives. By 2016, it turned clear that Obama’s two-term legacy was much less about progressive transformation and extra about “the advantages of practicality and compromise,” as one analyst identified in The Guardian.

Grey understood that change didn’t occur solely by electing Black individuals and even progressives of any race to positions of energy. “Folks want to prepare—poor individuals, working individuals—to place strain on the federal government, on the native degree and the congressional degree,” he stated in 2013.

He identified that Obama had develop into extra progressive on LGBTQ rights, for instance, not as a result of the president realized that equality was essential on his personal, however as a result of he had been compelled to evolve. Obama has “come a good distance,” stated Grey. “And, after all, the rationale he’s come to date on homosexual rights is as a result of the homosexual group has labored its agenda—it’s filed lawsuits, it’s filed referendums, and it’s moved the problem ahead to the place it’s mainstream and it’s … politically good to be an advocate for equal rights.”

Such highly effective and stylish analyses have been typical of Grey. He noticed clearly the connections between grassroots strain and politicians’ PR strikes.

“Actions are linked to one thing long run,” Gray said to me as soon as. “We have now to rebuild organizations, we’ve got to rebuild networks. … It’s obtained to be led by younger individuals, but it surely’s obtained to incorporate all individuals. It’s obtained to be multiracial, it’s obtained to be multi-issue. And that’s when actions happen, and that’s when change takes place.”

As common, he was proper.

This text was produced by Economy for All, a undertaking of the Impartial Media Institute.


Sonali Kolhatkar
is at the moment the racial justice editor at YES! Media and a writing fellow with Impartial Media Institute. She was beforehand a weekly columnist for She can be the host and creator of Rising Up with Sonali, a nationally syndicated tv and radio program airing on Free Speech TV and dozens of impartial and group radio stations. Sonali gained First Place on the Los Angeles Press Membership Annual Awards for Greatest Election Commentary in 2016. She additionally gained quite a few awards together with Greatest TV Anchor from the LA Press Membership and has additionally been nominated as Greatest Radio Anchor 4 years in a row. She is the writer of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, and the co-director of the nonprofit group, Afghan Ladies’s Mission. Her forthcoming e-book is Rising Up: The Energy of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (Metropolis Lights, 2023). She has a Grasp’s in Astronomy from the College of Hawai’i, and two undergraduate levels in Physics and Astronomy from the College of Texas at Austin. She displays on her skilled path in her 2014 TEDx discuss, “My Journey From Astrophysicist to Radio Host.” She might be reached at

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