Center for American Progress Action

Preston Mitchum on Advocacy, Representation, and Black History Month
Podcast

Preston Mitchum on Advocacy, Representation, and Black History Month

This week on “The Tent,” Preston Mitchum discusses Black History Month and the need for intersectional advocacy; CAP Action’s Allison McManus also joins for a conversation on the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Part of a Series

Preston Mitchum joins the show to discuss Black History Month, intersectional advocacy, and the importance of representation in entertainment. Colin and Daniella also talk about President Joe Biden’s efforts to relieve student debt and are joined by Allison McManus, managing director for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, for a conversation on the growing conflict in the Middle East.

Transcript:

Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hi everyone. Welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger.

Colin Seeberger: And I’m Colin Seeberger. Happy Super Bowl week, Daniella.

Gibbs Léger: Woo-hoo! I have been ready and waiting for this game. I’m so excited.

Seeberger: We have labored through a whole season of football for our teams. The postseason was not too long. I know we’ll talk about our predictions for the game, the halftime show, the commercials—all of that in a little bit. But in the meantime, I hear you had an exciting conversation this week.

Gibbs Léger: I did. I welcomed my friend and activist, entrepreneur, and TV star Preston Mitchum back to the show to talk about Black History Month, the intensifying attacks on our rights, and the link between advocacy and entertainment.

Seeberger: Super, super excited to hear it. But first, we’ve got to get to some news. And you know, I want to talk about something that impacts tens of millions of Americans. I’m talking about student loan debt. It’s something that I think a lot of people may have lost track of in the midst of so many other really big conversations that we’re having as a country right now. But it’s something that really affects people’s day-to-day financial lives.

Gibbs Léger: Exactly. Listeners may remember that last year, President [Joe] Biden announced a plan that would have canceled up to $10,000 of student loan debt per borrower and up to $20,000 for borrowers who received a Pell Grant. Student debt can prevent people from moving forward in their lives, from saving up for the future, even affording basic necessities like food and housing—kind of important. So, it’s no surprise that the president’s plan was wildly popular. It would have helped millions of Americans and their families improve their economic standing.

Unfortunately, certain GOP lawmakers attempted to stop the plan from being implemented, first by blocking it in Congress and then by challenging it in the courts, where they ultimately won—not surprising given the courts. But even though a handful of far-right justices on the Supreme Court struck down his initial debt forgiveness proposal, President Biden has been relentless in pushing his administration to get the maximum amount of debt relief to borrowers as he can under the law, and to do so as quickly as possible. In fact, to date, the Biden administration has eliminated nearly 140 billion—with a “b”—dollars.

Seeberger: That’s a lot of money.

Gibbs Léger: That’s a lot of money for a lot of people—more than 3.7 million borrowers. I just don’t think people really are comprehending that all of this has happened because, as you said, it’s getting lost in all this other news. He was also able to launch the most affordable student loan repayment program in history. This new program, called “SAVE,” caps interest and lowers monthly payments. To date, 6.9 million borrowers have enrolled, and 3.9 million of them have seen their monthly payments drop to $0. SAVE has also eliminated interest for borrowers who make their monthly payments on time.

And that’s a huge deal, especially for borrowers of color. We know that 66 percent of Black borrowers actually owe more than what they originally took out after 12 years, compared to 30 percent of all white borrowers. And both Black and Latino communities are disproportionately targeted by the predatory practices of expensive for-profit institutions that leave borrowers in debt for decades. SAVE is a crucial first step toward solving the student debt crisis.

Seeberger: You’re totally right. And it’s also why it’s completely ridiculous that you’ve got some extreme far-right lawmakers who are trying to strike the plan down. Republicans in the House actually voted to overturn SAVE, criticizing it as a wasteful subsidy at the expense of taxpayers. Under their proposal, borrowers enrolled in the program would see their payments increased by an average of $117 a month. That’s almost $1,500 a year. I don’t know about you, but $1,500 a year—that’s a lot.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah, it is.

Seeberger: And if that weren’t enough, you’ve got the chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R) from North Carolina—she recently introduced a bill that would roll back key provisions protecting college students from overpriced, low-valued programs. Because that makes a lot of sense?

Gibbs Léger: No.

Seeberger: Not quite. Fortunately, despite their efforts, the SAVE plan is still in effect for now. And what’s more, while folks may be familiar with President Biden’s original debt forgiveness proposal, after that was struck down, he instructed the Department of Education to come up with a new plan to cancel debt, right? And he recently announced that new debt forgiveness plan, and it’s one that would eliminate student debt for all borrowers enrolled in SAVE but who took out $12,000 or less of student loans and have been in repayment for 10-plus years. So we know that that’s something that can get relief to millions of people very, very quickly.

Hopefully we’ll hear more from the Department of Education about how they’re actually going to be implementing that really soon. But like you said, President Biden—he’s made it clear in his actions that he’s committed to tackling the student debt crisis. He knows Americans shouldn’t have to grow up in a family that is able to underwrite your ability to attend higher education in order to get the skills and the training that you need for a good-paying career. So, he’s continuing to use all the tools in his toolbox to make sure that we can open pathways to higher education—and a quality higher education—to anybody who wants it. So, even as some in Congress are working to try to rip all that away, I know that he’s continuing to focus on lowering the cost so it’s not burdensome for millions of people.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah, it’s really great news, and it’s really inspiring, to be sure. Now, unfortunately, we do have to turn to something a little bit heavier. There’s a lot going on in the Middle East right now. And here to break it down for us is Allison McManus, managing director of National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Allison, thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Allison McManus: Thanks so much, Daniella and Colin.

Gibbs Léger: So, we’re going to get into the war in Israel and Gaza in a moment. But first, I want to address the rising tensions that we’ve seen in recent weeks in the Middle East, including an attack by Iran-backed groups that killed three U.S. service members and the retaliatory airstrikes launched by the U.S. and the U.K.

Can you tell our listeners, what’s the state of play in the region right now? And where might this conflict go? And do you see any path towards de-escalation in the future?

McManus: Thanks so much, Daniella. I think it’s important to take a few steps back. If we look at where the region was prior to October 7, actually, it was—and this is something national security adviser Jake Sullivan had actually written in in a Foreign Affairs essay—it was quite stable. It was quite peaceful. There were some negotiations that were happening and some diplomacy that was happening between the U.S. and Iran that led to the release of American political prisoners there. So, actually, where we are right now is quite a dramatic shift. But that didn’t happen over the last few weeks. That’s something that began on October 7.

So, leaving aside—and I know we’ll get to the war in Gaza. After the Hamas attack, we immediately saw Iranian proxy militias begin to disrupt and disturb through a variety of attacks that were taking place, not only from the border of Lebanon into Israel but also in Iraq and Syria. So, since October 7, there’s been over 160 attacks on U.S. installations from Iranian-backed proxies. Until the attack that took place that killed the three service members in Jordan, none of those attacks had been lethal. So, we could actually see this escalation building. And it wasn’t until that lethal attack on U.S. service members that we saw the kind of response that we did. There had been other strikes that the U.S. forces had done in response, but this was really the first time that we saw the scale and intensity of those strikes.

I’ll also mention briefly the situation in the Red Sea, because that’s another instance where we saw the Houthis immediately begin to, I would say, exploit the instability around the war in Gaza to again disrupt—attacking commercial vessels, disrupting global trade. And eventually, that was also an area where the U.S., in coalition with a number of other nations, has responded with retaliatory strikes. “Where is this going?” is a very good question. The wider spread of the war that we were all really worried about last October and November is here. So, I think it’s important to state that and call it out.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration does not have any good options here. Not having responded forcefully to those 160 attacks was not a deterrent. Those attacks continued; they got worse. Three American families are now without their loved ones because of that. The retaliation that we’ve seen now is likely to materially affect infrastructure, weapons, leadership. So, it’s not to say there’s going to be no impact. Will it deter Iran from continuing these attacks? Probably not. Really what we need to see—and maybe this is a segue to what’s going on right now in Israel and Gaza—really what we need to see is for that conflict to come to an end. That will allow us to return to the diplomacy that we saw prior to October 7.

Seeberger: You mentioned, yes, obviously the events of October 7. And what has happened in Gaza since then has really inspired this instability across the region. And yet, it looks like we may be finally starting to get closer to a second humanitarian pause and hostage release.

Can you update us on the status of those negotiations and the growing calls for a ceasefire in the region?

McManus: It’s been a roller coaster in terms of the negotiations that have been happening around this second ceasefire. These negotiations have been taking place over the past few weeks. Really, while there’s been some optimism that there’s going to be some progress—and, of course, with these kinds of sensitive negotiations, often you don’t really know until the final deal is done.

Seeberger: The ink is not dry. It is not dry.

McManus: Exactly. But there’s a few areas where we’ve seen real tension, let’s say. The first is around the nature of what the ceasefire will be. The previous ceasefire that took place was very temporary. It did allow for the return of some hostages and also allowed for the release of some Palestinian prisoners. So that was essentially the deal.

Right now, if we want to think about what a more enduring ceasefire would look like, the time frame that’s been set out has been anywhere between 40 days and 45 days—I think is where they’ve landed now. Hamas has said that it will not agree to any ceasefire deal unless it includes an ultimate agreement for Israeli troops to pull out of Gaza. Israel has said it will not agree to any ceasefire deal that will see its troops pull out of Gaza. So, there’s some agreement on a first phase that would again involve temporary ceasefire, return of hostages as well as the Palestinian prisoners. But neither side is willing to agree on what would come after that. And so that’s really where these negotiations have gotten hung up right now.

Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken is traveling to the region to discuss, so we will see where this heads and whether there can be an agreement. The other thing I would mention is that in the Israeli government right now, there’s huge opposition to—well, let’s not say huge. I didn’t want to give the impression that this is something that’s a widespread shared view. It seems like there are many, including many in the Israeli military, that want to see a more enduring ceasefire, even if maybe not the withdrawal of troops. However, there are some in the far-right of the Knesset who have said “no” to any ceasefire deal that would see release of Palestinian prisoners. And that’s a really crucial aspect to having any ceasefire.

So, now it’s opened up this whole other debate on: Are these far-right ministers going to actually stay in the government if [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu moves forward? If they come out of the government, then the government could fail, and then there’s no deal to begin with. So, that’s just a whole other side-drama that’s happening. That’s an added obstacle to actually coming to a deal. So, a lot of negotiations are going on; a lot of folks are working really hard to be able to see cessation in these hostilities, to give some relief to the people of Gaza who have been suffering, to see some of these hostages finally come home. But a lot of work remains to be done.

Gibbs Léger: So, I want to talk about the U.S. response and, in particular, President Biden and some actions that he’s taken recently that, I feel like, haven’t gotten a lot of coverage but could be seen as a step toward helping in the region. And one was putting out an executive order condemning the violent extremist settlers in the West Bank. The second thing being talks of formally recognizing a formal state of Palestine, which I think is something that has been talked about for a very long time but never like this.

So, what do you think these steps could do toward helping ease tensions in the region? And how are those things viewed by all the players in the region?

McManus: Great questions, Daniella. These steps I would contextualize in the thinking that the administration is doing about what is going to come after this conflict. And these questions of what comes after are fundamentally tied to what’s happening right now. Because while there’s been so much focus—and completely justified focus—on what’s happening in Gaza, things have worsened substantially in the West Bank. There has been a huge uptick in violence since October 7.

This has been the most violent period in the West Bank in years, and much of this violence has been Israeli armed settlers who have been displacing Palestinians, often with the either implicit or explicit support of the Israeli police. This is a huge problem not only because it’s reprehensible—the violence and displacement that’s taking place, on its own—but these settlements have been a real impediment to any kind of a political solution that would allow the Palestinians their own independent state. What are the borders of that state going to be? Is it going to include these new settlements? It can’t include those that have been pushed illegally in this new wave. But at what point do you look at the settlement expansions that have taken place over the past years and draw the line and say, “This is Israeli land or Palestinian land”?

This illegal settlement expansion is really a complicating factor in thinking about what a Palestinian state should look like. So, it was very important for the Biden administration to, as it did very forcefully, not only condemn the illegal settlement expansion but actually sanction settlers who are carrying this out—and not only sanction settlers who are carrying this out, because prior executive orders had done something similar, but to tie the settlement expansion to this permissive attitude of government officials … let’s go farther, the encouragement of some of the government officials.

The week before this executive order was issued, I think it was 10 percent of the Israeli Knesset—certainly some very influential ministers—were actually at a conference that was advocating for the resettlement of Gaza, that was advocating for the settlements that are really going to be a challenge in terms of the peace process moving forward. So, a really, I think, noteworthy, welcome step to put these ministers on notice, to put anybody who is abetting these settlers on notice, to put the settlers themselves on notice, and also to put others in the Israeli government on notice to say, “This should not be tolerated by these government officials.”

Seeberger: Allison, while we have you, I do have one more question. You know, obviously, we’ve been talking for months now about the Biden administration’s supplemental funding request for additional national security assistance to support our allies Israel, Ukraine, the people of Taiwan. And we saw this past week, for months, extremists on the far-right have been demanding, “If you’re going to provide any funding for our allies, that has to come with assistance to secure the border.”

After months of bipartisan negotiations, we got a deal from Democratic and independent and Republican senators. They put their plan out this week. And suddenly, folks on the far-right, they want nothing to do with securing the border. And that’s put in peril, potentially, the national security assistance that we talked about.

Can you update us on where the status of that supplemental funding request stands? And do you think that we’re going to end up getting assistance to our allies?

McManus: First, I just want to say how disappointing this whole process has been. The president’s budget request was put out in October. It is now February. So, it has been months that we have not been able to provide incredibly urgent support, particularly to Ukraine that is fighting a war of aggression against Russia. They have dwindling ammunition supplies. I mean, this has materially and symbolically harmed U.S. national security interests. It means no humanitarian assistance for the more than 47 million refugees in Ukraine, for the more than 2 million displaced people in Gaza. I mean, this is not just disappointing; this is shameful. And this has absolutely damaged the credibility of the United States around the world.

Where does this assistance package stand now? Well, after those months of negotiations, to finally reach a deal that was announced on Sunday—and of course, as you mentioned, pretty immediately, Senate Republicans came out and said, “We’re not going to vote on this. We’re going to filibuster. It’s not going to see the light of day.” Then [they] said, “OK, now we will move forward with everything but the border security part.” There’s other folks in this building that could speak much more intelligently and expertly to what it took to actually get to a deal on border security.

But where we’re at right now—literally right now—they are considering a package that would move without those border security provisions that would just include the aid to Israel, for military assistance to Ukraine, for military assistance to Taiwan, and the humanitarian piece. What remains to be seen? Of course, whether this package passes in the Senate, which it’s likely to. What amendments may be put in this? Because Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said that he wants to have an open and fair amendment process, which will be ongoing now. And so, it really remains to be seen what exactly goes in this package.

There’s two amendments that we at CAP have been very clear about calling for that would strengthen congressional oversight over the weapons that we are selling—weapons not only that we’re selling but that we are providing with taxpayer dollars. So, I think it’s pretty fair to say Congress should be able to see and know what’s getting out there and know that it’s actually advancing our national security aims. But also, what is then going to happen with this bill when it goes to the House? The House failed to pass an Israel-only piece of legislation last night. And so, for this legislation to be passed into law remains to be seen.

Seeberger: Allison, thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

McManus: Thanks for having me.

Seeberger: That’s all the time we have for today. If there’s anything you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentP. That’s @TheTentPod.

Gibbs Léger: And stick around for my interview with Preston Mitchum in just to beat.

[Musical transition]

Gibbs Léger: Preston Mitchum is a Black queer attorney, activist, and TV personality. He’s the CEO of PDM Consulting, a firm that focuses on the power of Black people, LGBTQ+ people, and young people. He previously served as the director of federal advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project and has worked for a number of other advocacy organizations—including the Center for American Progress Action Fund. He also taught law at Georgetown University and American University. Preston, welcome back to “The Tent.”

Preston Mitchum: Oh, my God. I’m so excited to be here.

Gibbs Léger: So happy to have you. All right. It’s Black History Month, and you are an outspoken advocate for racial equity and representation in the media, in the law, and in so many other fields.

So, I want to ask you about a term we have a lot of opinions on: Black excellence. That’s right, we’re going to jump right into what I think was one of the best moments of “Summer House.” So, for our listeners, please tell us why you hate that term.

Mitchum: Going right into it. Dun, dun, dun. So, I’ve thought about what this term means or doesn’t mean for so long at this point. And I think I really started to criticize it a lot when I saw it on social media—especially Twitter—and what people meant by it, and really, who were considered excellent and Black, and what that actually meant to who was not considered Black and excellent. And so, when you search the hashtag, it will be people like doctors, lawyers—I mean, frankly, I’m a part of what people will consider to be …

Gibbs Léger: Yes, you are.

Mitchum: … #Blackexcellence. But there was something that was really troubling to me about it. I would think about my family members. For those who may not know, I am the only person in my family with a terminal degree. In fact, I’m the only Black man in my family even with a bachelor’s or an associate, for that matter. There’s one other person in my family, my oldest sister, who has a master’s degree. So, I started to think about them. They grew up in, like me, Ohio. They were industrial workers. They were folks who worked in retail. They were administrative assistants. They were folks who, frankly, had to fight to get a plan, probably never had pension.

And it just made me really think, “I know you’re not talking about my family when you look up this term. I know you’re not discussing them.” And so, for me, maybe the issue is not necessarily with the term Black excellence; it’s how we actually have defined it and who can be considered excellent and Black. And I started to say, “Why don’t we broaden this term?” Right? Like, why can’t it be a 25-year-old Black woman with three kids who is just surviving, right? I oftentimes joked—it’s probably not a joke—but I’ve oftentimes said sometimes when people say “Black excellence,” they’re thinking of the people who have somehow tricked capitalism.

Gibbs Léger: Right.

Mitchum: Right? And who somehow succeeded in capitalism. And to me, that’s not anything to celebrate. Like, I love it, and I’m grateful that people have somehow gotten privileged enough to understand what networking and resources and luck can mean. I’m even more excited for the people who have none of those things and are still here with us and are still surviving—and, in many instances, thriving. Because we never celebrate those people. And that’s the Midwest me. That’s where I’m from.

Gibbs Léger: I love it. It’s like people like my dad who worked for the transit authority in New York City, right? I would consider him also to be #Blackexcellence.

Mitchum: Absolutely.

Gibbs Léger: So, it’s a strange and surreal time to be celebrating Black History Month, as we face unprecedented attacks on our rights—whether it’s limiting our ability to teach an accurate representation of the history of this country, the LGBTQI+ community being silenced in public school systems, Black women being robbed of their bodily autonomy, and a host of other issues facing our country right now. So why do you think we’re seeing this push to strip away so many hard-won freedoms, and what can we do to push back?

Mitchum: The unfortunate reality is, I think, the answer is in the question. Right? It’s because we’ve had hard-fought realities and wins along the way. We’re thinking about Supreme Court cases coming up—what’s today? Tomorrow, right? So probably today, given everything that’s happening. And we also specifically have times where there’s interconnected realities and fights that are happening. And I always say our opponents may claim to hate intersectionality, but they sure do know how to attack issues intersectionally.

Gibbs Léger: Yes.

Mitchum: And that’s the thing I’m always thinking about, right? When you see attacks happening to women and girls and other folks who are capable of becoming pregnant; you see them happening to Black and brown folks; you see them happening to poor folks; you see it happening to folks without housing and who are housing insecure—all of these fights are interconnected. And I’ve oftentimes been frustrated because I do see people giving up. And oftentimes, how could you not? How could you not feel that you don’t have to fight anymore? Because it’s exhausting. There’s an exhaustion that you feel with consistently fighting and feeling like you lost, right? We have a Supreme Court that is not for progressive wins at this point. If we do get a win, maybe it’s because someone has a moral compass every once in a while, right?

Gibbs Léger: Every now and then. Just every very now and then.

Mitchum: Every now and again, someone shocks me even. But that’s rare, right? And then, you’re thinking of the makeup of the courts and the future elections or the election that’s going to happen this year, and you’re just afraid. And so, I oftentimes think, obviously, everything is local. No matter how national or international it may seem, everything really starts in a hyperlocal way.

And so, the thing I always say is get involved locally, really begin to push back, understanding what actually are your everyday realities and how do you push back on that? Are you writing letters to, like in the District of Columbia, for example, to ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] commissioners? Are you thinking of how you can talk to city council people? Are you thinking about the mayor and how you can write letters to her or push back on some of her policies if needed?

So, I think a lot of it really is how you’re exploring the local. But it’s difficult, right? Going back to the last question, when you’re thinking about, “I just need to feed my family,” how do you do that and fight back on this micro and macro level? It becomes incredibly difficult. But I always think about the spirit of our ancestors, frankly. And especially during Black History Month, when you have people like Bayard Rustin that we’re celebrating—I’m going to take it back to the Grammys, people like Victoria Monét, where people are just now hearing about …

Gibbs Léger: Yes, I know.

Mitchum: … like, their songs making dance and you feel joy from and even a little bit of like sexual freedom in it. And I just think about all the people who are now being celebrated—whether they’re singers, songwriters, activists, queer folks, trans sisters—and how do you actually tap into that energy and spirit? And I can’t say it’s easy, but it’s so beautiful when we do figure it out.

Gibbs Léger: Yes. So, you’ve made a very successful transition since we last spoke from full-time advocacy.

Mitchum: Oh, have I?

Gibbs Léger: You have.

Mitchum: Oh, thank you.

Gibbs Léger: To entertainment, entrepreneurship, advocacy—receipts! So sorry.

Mitchum: Love that. There’s always a Bravo reference in there somewhere.

Gibbs Léger: Always, always. So why did you decide to make that switch? And you know, what connections do you see between advocacy and entertainment space, you know, especially in the midst of such a critical moment for our democracy and our rights?

Mitchum: Daniella, I am not going to lie to you, it was because I was tired of working for other people.

Gibbs Léger: Hey, listen speak on it.

Mitchum: And I still am, right? My clients are clearly my bosses. But the reality is I was just so exhausted with—maybe it’s a buzzword now, in the past couple of years—but I was really exhausted with the nonprofit industrial complex. And I was really exhausted with feeling like I kept reaching my ceiling, no matter what organization I worked for. And you know, because I was interested in things like media. I loved getting invites on CNN, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera. I loved debating with people online and in person. That was the thing I really enjoyed. And a lot of times there wasn’t the space at those organizations to do that.

So, I had to really be brave enough to say, “OK, this is going to be an issue no matter where you work, right?” At least now in my point in life, because that’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to prioritize. And it wasn’t really those orgs’ fault, right? I think we just had an impasse of what I saw for myself and what they saw for me at those organizations. And maybe that could change, but in the meantime, I need to eat. So, because of that, I really started to think about all the things I was really interested in: TV, debating, making people laugh, making people food, working in the government relations space, DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] work. Because regardless of what some people say, we will always need DEI.

Gibbs Léger: Yes.

Mitchum: And so, that was part of it for me. Part of it for me was quite literally just trusting in myself, no matter how afraid I was to do the things that I knew I was really good at doing, and get people to trust that I would do it well—even if I didn’t have the same tax status then that I have now. Because taxes are a lot when you work for yourself.

Gibbs Léger: Yes. 

Mitchum: We can talk about that another day. But that was really it for me. I was just so frustrated with not being able to speak about things in my terms and my way and really to center the people who I know bring a lot of power to me who, I thought, frankly, weren’t being served or serviced by some of the organizations, even when I think they were trying. And sometimes, it became incredibly hurtful for me to really talk about poor Black people—poor queer and trans people—especially when I was discussing mental health services or talking to members of Congress and their staffers. And they would just sing our praises, frankly. And that was a lot of organizations I worked at—they would sing our praises. And it was hard for me because I was criticizing our organizations. And I’m like, “Wow, we have different levels here of who we see need the most help.”

And it started to make me feel like a liar. And that’s OK for some people, right? Some people, they know that incremental wins are the wins that you’re going to have to take over time. And I think that’s OK. For me, it wasn’t. And maybe it will be in the future, right? I’m still young enough to have the energy to fight. But even when I was talking to my parents and people my parents’ ages, they were just like, “Baby, you got to get a check, where you get your check and take it how you get it, and that’s it.” And that’s because that was a different generational fight. Right? That was operation out of survival. And I think I am blessed and privileged enough that I don’t have to in this moment in my life, and I wasn’t going to.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah. You know, despite all the progress that has been made, I am more aware of the work that we have to do as a nation to think about Black History Month. And something that you tackle really well in your role in the media is the importance of representation. You just talked about who are you speaking for? And who are you lifting up, especially in predominantly white spaces?

So, how do you approach all of this in your work now? What do you think about when you’re deciding how to approach these types of opportunities? And do you ever deal with the pressure of oftentimes being the “only” in a room?

Mitchum: I’m usually the “only” in the room in certain instances. I’m really excited to say, actually, I just launched a partnership with the National Black Justice Coalition called “Preston’s Point.” And part of Preston’s Point is really exploring the intersection of Black LGBTQ+ people and same-gender-loving folks and the media. And what does that look like? What does it look like to have different possibility models? What does it look like when you are the version that people look to, to be the possibility model? And we just launched a series, and I’m really excited about it, because it’s exploring this exact topic.

Gibbs Léger: That’s awesome.

Mitchum: Thank you. It’s really interesting to me because I oftentimes think about what it means to be the “only” in a room. Take, for example, “Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard.” I am the only queer-identified person in the room. And sometimes—most of the time—it’s actually frustrating. And I don’t think some of my classmates and friends notice it sometimes, but it can become incredibly isolating to hear certain things, to hear things that you know are obvious jokes. And I’m already a thinker. And that makes it worse sometimes, when you’re the “only” in a room. You’re like, what? Did you …

Gibbs Léger: What do you mean by that?

Mitchum: … like, tell me more about that, because I need to understand so I don’t attack you in this moment.

Gibbs Léger: Yes.

Mitchum: Because you probably don’t mean it in the way that I’m taking it. But sometimes, you could become the annoying person, right? Because you’re always the “whataboutism.” And for me, I just don’t care about being the annoying person in the room anymore. I’m just like, if to be annoying means that I’m going to check you so you can get your language, I am happily annoying.

Gibbs Léger: Yes.

Mitchum: Especially during Black History Month, I’m going to do it.

Gibbs Léger: Yes.

Mitchum: But the reality is it is disheartening sometimes being “only” in the room. I know, every year when something difficult happens, we always say, “It’s X year,” right? So, it’s 2024. Why am I the “only” in the room? But that’s the reality, right? And it can become—I mean, the best way to really explain it—this upcoming season, I won’t share too much. But one of the things that I realized that there were just words used, and I think it was words that I was used to hearing growing up that were quite homophobic. But they’re so soft and subtle that you would either have to be queer to recognize it or you would have to have a friend who was queer who has told you at some point that that word should not be used. And I was the only person to call it out.

And I had to sit there for this moment and be like, “Should I call this person out for this?” Because I can look like the complainer. Even though you’ve actually insulted me, right? Even if you didn’t mean to, you still insulted me. People could call out certain things like the misogyny that was there, but they couldn’t call out the homophobia that was emanating also. And for me, because I always think about the intersection of these issues, I’m like, “Yes, it was misogynistic, and it was homophobic.” And it was hard. And I called it out, to be clear.

But I think those moments are so frustrating. Because that’s what you deal with being the “only” in the room. I have so many friends, whether we’re going to use the term outliers or co-conspirators or accomplices, where I’ve called out things in very public spaces or private spaces and work rooms. And they will come to me after the fact, saying, “You know, you were right.” And I’m like, “Thanks for telling me in private, but allyship means that you actually would have shared it in this moment.” In fact, it probably means I should not have been the one to say this in the first place.

Gibbs Léger: Right.

Mitchum: And so that’s what it means, being the “only”—knowing you’re in the right, but knowing, no matter what, people are going to think you’re in the wrong just for calling it out.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah. And so, it’s like you sit in this calculus of, like, “OK, is it worth me doing this right now? What’s the blowback going to be?” I can imagine it can be very exhausting to have to do that all the time.

Mitchum: Listen, so I have a very recent example, actually. So, I was in Salt Lake City for this amazing movie premiere about suicide prevention and mental health. And I was invited to this conference by the same group of people that I called out, and they organized the conference. And I say this in love, so I hope they don’t mind. But the Huntsman Foundation—they’re a great organization in Utah. But this one conference, I felt, I was incredibly uncomfortable in this entire conference. It was just very white, very cis, very straight. And if I’m being honest, it may have been—I mean, it’s Utah, right? So, it may have probably less than 5 percent Black in this room. And it’s 200 people in this conference.

And the last day of this conference, it was close to the closing plenary. They had ignored—“they” meaning the audience members, so 200 people by and large—kept ignoring comments that this one Black woman in particular kept raising, and I was fed up. And the room knew at the end. Because I stood up, and I talked for like 15 minutes about how disappointed I was at the entire conference for ignoring this Black woman and calling Black folks resilient consistently, as if that’s something to be celebrated. Because we’ve overcome obstacles and made it. Like thanks, systems.

So, I was just so exhausted with it that we left, and everyone kept coming up to me. And I mean, there were so many white women who were really trying to be supportive in this moment. And they walked up to me one by one and started crying and sharing things with me about how they’re so sorry. And I was like, “Hey, solve it after the fact. Please don’t cry to me.” Like, you think you’re hurt? I made this comment because I’m one of the few Black people in this room, and I’m hurting, which is why I made this comment, right? So you don’t get to center your tears here. Figure it out. And I think some of them were even more shocked that I was like, “No, I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it. Stop that. Stop that.”

But that’s an example of what it’s like. I quite literally stopped the entire space. Because I’m like, I’m at the point that I’m not going to be uncomfortable. This entire room will be uncomfortable for you making me uncomfortable. So I was invited back, somehow, to this movie screening. Because this was like 2022 or 2023. And they invited me back in early 2024. And I am so grateful to say that they shared with me just last week that they shifted. They hired other folks who were consulting with them—Black women.

Gibbs Léger: Oh, that’s great.

Mitchum: And they were there. They were there. So, to me, you can have the silver lining as well when you call out the space. But it’s still unfortunate that you’re forced to do so when you’re the “only” in a room, because you’re already nervous and, to your point, are calculating what it means to call it out and how much people may dislike your words. And most moments don’t go like that. Right?

Gibbs Léger: Right.

Mitchum: Most moments, there isn’t this violin playing at the end—this “Family Matters” music at the end.

Gibbs Léger: Not the “Family Matters” music!

Mitchum: Right? Like, you know when you’re going to learn something in the ’90s that needs to change?

Gibbs Léger: Yes.

Mitchum: Like that, yes. I’m grateful that that moment was that moment. But it was frightening, to be honest. It was very frightening.

Gibbs Léger: I can only imagine. And it’s really great to hear that there was like a positive outcome from that. So, I want to end on a fun note. As we discussed, you have “Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard” coming out in March, I believe.

Mitchum: Yes.

Gibbs Léger: Happy birthday to me. So aside from the fact that you really like crab legs, can you tell us one really exciting thing that we should be looking out for this season?

Mitchum: Baby, please know I love crab legs. Oh my gosh, I literally eat it once a week. So, thank you letter. Oh, my gosh. So, a lot of the criticism that people had was—and it was very constructive—about me, was that they wish they saw more of me. That’s really what it was. They were like, “We know you have a partner.” It’s like breadcrumbs being planted, right? And seeds being planted. What I’m happy is that you see me grow through them seeds a little bit more in Season Two. You see a little bit more of a spicier side of me, because of what I’ve just previously said.

And just things where some friends just get on your nerves sometimes, and you have to tell them that “you’re getting on my nerves” sometimes. So, I’m grateful that you do get to see more of me. You may have a little surprise with my partner and some friends visiting, which will be beautiful. And then, you just see more friendships. Whether they’re going to blossom or whether they’re not going to blossom, you see change in friendships, change in relationships. You see partners coming out with significant others on the show.

And I think, overall, though, Season Two—I think Season One was everything—I think Season Two is even better. I am so excited for all the juice, the drama, the love, the romance, and the drama again. Can I say that? No, but I’m so excited. I hope that people will view Season One. There’s still time—it’s on Peacock—before we launch live into our Season Two.

Gibbs Léger: I am so, so excited. And I cannot wait for your confessional looks. I’m really excited.

Mitchum: That’s the thing I’m most excited about. I am so excited about my confessional looks. And my looks for our events this season.

Gibbs Léger: All right. Well, Preston Mitchum, thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Mitchum: Thank you so much.

[Musical transition]

Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. All right, Colin, let’s get into it: Super Bowl predictions!

Seeberger: “Swifty Bowl” predictions. What do you got?

Gibbs Léger: OK, so number A, we’re saying she’s going to be there.

Seeberger: Number A?

Gibbs Léger: Right?

Seeberger: I mean, she’s absolutely going to be there.

Gibbs Léger: OK.

Seeberger: I love that the Japanese Embassy literally put out a formal communication saying that Taylor Swift will be able to get back to Las Vegas in order to be able to be there and watch boyfriend Travis Kelce probably take home another Super Bowl ring. I think the Chiefs are going to get this.

Gibbs Léger: I want the Chiefs to get this, because I have lots of feelings about the 49ers, and they’re mostly not good. But it’s going to be a tough game, I think. But I’m going to give it to the Chiefs because that’s what my heart has to believe.

Seeberger: Yeah, I mean, I think that—I will say—I think that Brock Purdy is ridiculously talented.

Gibbs Léger: The most underpaid quarterback in the football league?

Seeberger: I think that’s right. I would have to imagine so. But I also think that the Chiefs are just—they’re accelerating into the Superbowl. They have really just kicked things into a new gear from where they were in the regular season. And I think the 49ers—they didn’t play the hardest opponents, either, to get there. So, I think the fact that the Chiefs could put all of the drama behind them about, “Oh, maybe they’re not that good anymore. Maybe Taylor Swift is not good for the team.” I think, boy, they’ve really answered their critics quite a lot the last few weeks. And I think it’s going to be fun.

Gibbs Léger: I think so, too. CBS is known for doing the most cutaways of Taylor, so I think we will see her a lot. I’m really looking forward to the Super Bowl. And I wonder if Usher is going to bring out any special guests during the halftime performance.

Seeberger: I will be very excited to see that as well. Speaking of CBS, my husband actually just got back from Las Vegas. He was out there seeing U2 at the Sphere …

Gibbs Léger: Oh, wow.

Seeberger: … with some friends. And he said that CBS actually has the full Super Bowl setup all in front of the fountains in front of the Bellagio. So, he said the whole town is completely decked out with stuff. It looks great. I’m sure it’s going to be—you know, it’s Vegas—It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be amazing.

Gibbs Léger: I have to say, Vegas is the best place to hold this Super Bowl.

Seeberger: Totally.

Gibbs Léger: So, I’m super jealous for everyone who gets to go, but I can’t wait to watch—and, of course, the commercials.

Seeberger: Oh, yeah.

Gibbs Léger: We’ll discuss the results next week.

Seeberger: Most certainly.

Gibbs Léger: All right, guys. That’s going to be it for us. Please take care of yourselves, enjoy the Superbowl, and we’ll talk to you next week.

Seeberger: Go Chiefs.

Gibbs Léger: “The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger, and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer, Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer, Em Espey is our booking producer, and Muggs Leone is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Producers

Daniella Gibbs Léger

Executive Vice President, Communications and Strategy

@dgibber123

Colin Seeberger

Senior Adviser, Communications

Erin Phillips

Broadcast Media Manager

Kelly McCoy

Senior Director of Broadcast Communications

Em Espey

Senior Manager, Media Relations

Muggs Leone

Executive Assistant

Allison McManus

Managing Director, National Security and International Policy

Department

Communications

Explore The Series

Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.

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