Michael McDonald On The Importance Of Social Media

You issued a Twitter statement in 2014 about the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man who was shot by police in August of that year. Anything to say about how your ideas about racial injustice and police brutality have come up in your music over the years? And when did those ideas come to fruition?
It’s come up going back as far as Takin’ It to the Streets. Growing up in St. Louis, I remember contemplating, “What if I had been born black? What would my life be like?” In the same town, in the same given day, being restricted to where I could go in the city. That whole idea of it was always kind of disturbing, weird, especially when you’re a kid. You don’t know how to even really think about it. It was always a big question in my mind. I grew up largely in a white community that seemed to have all those social ills. As a kid, you’re kind of wide open. You don’t have all the prejudices that you might gain as an adult.

What about now?
What I notice in today’s particular form of social polarities and prejudices is people don’t want to really look at the problem. They want to deflect to “Well, white lives matter too.” Well, that’s not the point. People are not saying that white lives don’t matter. What they’re saying is there’s a real disparity here, no matter how you want to look at it. No one is saying that the police are evil, wholesale evil. Any kid who grows up in the inner city probably knows as many positive encounters with police as not.

If you’re a young black man in this country, with the social development that has taken place over the years and the injustices involved with that, your idea of being arrested on the street is totally different than any white kid your age because it wasn’t that long ago, especially in certain regions of the country, where if you got pulled over for the smallest infraction, whatever it might be, you better run your ass off and you better not stop. If you got caught, you might wind up in front of a judge in the next five hours and sent off to a chain gang somewhere, and your parents may never hear from you again. That’s just a sad reality.

You’ve also been outspoken in your praise of the Sioux nation in their opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. On Facebook last December, you wrote, “As we offer our congratulations to the brave and decent folks who stood their ground at Standing Rock, let us also express our gratitude for this was not just a victory for the Sioux nation but a victory for all humanity against corporate greed!”
Everybody wants to go, “They should be dealing with their alcoholism on the reservation and not worrying about this pipeline.” You know, it’s like, That’s not the point. The point is, this is a sovereign nation. They have more of a right to say no than even you and I do because they might use the eminent domain bullshit on you and I, because we live here. The fact is, the Sioux nation is a sovereign nation. It’s the last bit of sovereignty that they have. We’ve broken every treaty with them up to now. Now we’re going to break this one?

It’s more important for these guys to make a few million dollars for the limited amount of jobs, for the limited amount of time, and they pass that off to all of us as “Oh, these are jobs, and this is energy.” It’s bullshit is what it is. It’s a pipeline that they’re going to expect us to maintain, the taxpayers, and they’re gonna pollute these people’s water table. It’s gonna be the next Flint, Michigan. We’ve got to stop bullshitting ourselves.

You’re not afraid to use social media to voice your political opinions.
I’m always struggling between “Does the world really need my opinion on this?” I think we all have to speak up, especially at times like this when what’s going on is pretty frightening. There’s this whole idea that, How do I put this? This has happened before, and it’s happening right under our nose, and I think unfortunately there’s a whole generation that doesn’t really appreciate the recent history of how this has happened before. The United States is not immune to this happening.