Earlier today (July 9), Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello held a live conversation with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds, the Bloody Beetroots and artist Shea Diamond to discuss race and art in America. During the chat, Morello opened up about his experiences with racism and explained how “racism in this country is as American as apple pie and baseball.”

Morello spent the majority of the conversation interviewing his guests and hearing their perspectives on race, but before beginning a Q&A session with fans, he spoke about encounters with the Ku Klux Klan while growing up in Libertyville, Illinois, and being pulled over dozens of times by police during Rage Against the Machine’s most successful years.

“In the height of Rage Against the Machine’s fame and fortune, I was pulled over and handcuffed on the side of IL-176, which runs through town, just coming home from the local bar because I was walking while black in Libertyville,” Morello begins. “In Los Angeles, dozens of times, I was pulled over when driving, going on official band business but in my old Chevy Astro van when I was driving through Beverly Hills. ‘Why is there a thirty-something-year-old black man in this neighborhood?’ It’s a constant background noise for those of us who have experienced it and something you can’t really reach or understand if you haven’t experienced it.”

Morello continues, “A curious part of my history is that I’ve ‘changed color’ through the years. This is what I mean; in the town where I grew up, I was the only black person. Once, there was a noose in my family’s garage, there was the occasional burned cross on the lawn, and my mom, who was a public high school teacher, had some of the most horrific racist stuff pinned to her chalkboard.”

“Then, I was in a popular band that had songs that were predominantly played on white, rock-oriented stations, the way I speak is not typically urban vernacular, and there’s a large part of my fan base that freaks the fuck out when I say that I’m black. Like, they don’t want to hear it, they doubt it and it surfaces once a month whether it’s Twitter or Instagram where I say something about being black. They’re like, ‘You’re not black!’ I assure you that the Northern Illinois Ku Klux Klan thinks that I am.”

“Race is a very difficult thing to discuss in America, because racism in this country is as American as apple pie and baseball. It’s interwoven with the DNA of this country. That’s why when you criticize racism, people think you’re criticizing America… because you are. This reckoning with all these statues is very, very hard, because there are these myths, these white supremacists myths that are woven in our history. George Washington once traded a black man for a keg of molasses. Thomas Jefferson raped 14-year-old Sally Hemings, a person that he owned and had a bunch of children with. Those are like founding fathers No. 1 and 2, and that shit’s real.”

“It’s hard to say, ‘We’re the greatest country of all time, we’re the country of liberty and human rights, when these grains of objectively horrific racism are at our core. That’s why one of the reasons you see both active racism, the more overt Klan guys and the Confederate Flag, and reactive racism, which is people feel that the America that they’ve been taught to believe in their hearts is being threatened by the truth.”

The four participants in the chat recently collaborated on a protest anthem called “Stand Up.” Check out the track below.

Stand Up (Official Lyrics) – Tom Morello x Shea Diamond x Dan Reynolds x The Bloody Beetroots

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