“Race is a system of power rooted in colour and culture”, proclaims DeRay Mckesson in 2019. In 2014 DeRay Mckesson quit his job and moved to Ferguson, Missouri to protest against the police shooting of Michael Brown Jr, an unarmed African-American teenager. This act of activism has altered his life drastically, as he then spent the next 400 days on the streets assisting with the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement we all know too well. With his inspirational book, On the Other Side of Freedom, DeRay was not only invited to speak at an event but was in fact a guest selector at this years Edinburgh Interntaional Book Festival.

Honest, courageous, and vivid, On the Other Side of Freedom is a work brimming with hope. Taking from his own experiences as an activist, organizer, educator, and public official, Mckesson exhorts all Americans to work to dismantle the legacy of racism and to imagine the best of what is possible. This act in itself is a hopeful one, enthusing and encouraging the next generation to act on this in the promise that things will indeed change in societies to come.

In conversation with Lauretta Charlton, Race/Related editor of The New York Times, podcaster on top of everything else, Mckesson discusses his book and shares anecdotes from his time protesting, in the hope of a more equal world. Momentously inspiring.

DeRay mentioned that since the protests and the publication of his book he has, so many things he wants to figure out how to talk about in the public space. And when discussing a safe world, he alludes to the audience, “police are probably not in the world that you see as safe.”

The most resonating statement he makes, and belive me, there are a few, is, “I don’t get a choice to talk about race. I didn’t make this about race. Race made this about me. I would love not to talk about race… White people have the choice not to talk about race.” He goes onto state that race is a contract, intentionally created by people so that it’s made impossible to destroy, the system was designed to be this way. He illustrates this with an example of spending that Trump just invested into the military. Chair, Lauretta works well to keep the conversation on track giving little away on her own opinions. However, a Scottish or British chair may add to the universailty of the theme, making it not excusively for the US audiences.

They also broach mental health and race and activism, and the impact that acitivism and racism can have on mental health, prompting a negative spell. And this is just as important as any other aspect, and perhaps the precurser for McKesson’s hopeful text, keeping spirits high in times of much-needed change.

For more on the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme click here.