Brandon Kyle Goodman is speaking from the heart. “We fear for our lives,” he tells the camera. “I hope you understand that. And I hope you understand that even though you’re a good person and you mean well, you have racist tendencies. How could you not?”
The video was uploaded to Instagram on 28 May and captioned ‘To my white friends’. Goodman recorded the seven-minute, 24-second monologue in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands – or rather knee – of the white police officer Derek Chauvin. Over the subsequent months, Goodman has recorded many more such monologues, their cumulative views running into the multi-millions. Difficult topics – including allyship, white guilt, racism in the gay community, reactive changes versus systematic change – discussed with empathy and nuance. But the underlying message is very simple.
“The overall goal, for all of us that are black out here, is the same: “Stop killing us. Give us equity. Give us equality. It's the same message across the board. So, we'll say it as many ways as possible so that an enormous amount of people can get the message, because ultimately what's most important is that, however it's said, you get it.”
The 33-year-old Goodman is a successful writer and actor whose credits include Big Mouth and Modern Love. Square Mile readers may remember him from our recent cover interview with Lucifer star Tom Ellis. The pair are friends – Goodman went to college with Ellis’s wife Meaghan Oppenheimer – and for the past few weeks, Ellis has hosted Black Folx on his Instagram: a series of conversations between Goodman and members of the black community.
“These conversations need to be heard by people,” Ellis told Square Mile. “Especially by white people who wouldn’t have bothered to listen to them, for whatever reason.”
We agree. And while it was great to be able to spotlight and speak to Goodman for the Ellis interview, ultimately a Tom Ellis interview has to be primarily about Tom Ellis. So here’s our Brandon Kyle Goodman interview: a conversation about having conversations, a rallying cry to be better and a blueprint for how.
What was in your mind when you recorded that first video?
That one is interesting because I actually haven't watched it since I posted it. I honestly haven't seen it, but what was going through my mind was, “I have to say something,” and that I can no longer be quiet.
Not necessarily be quiet, because I think I've always been vocal about my life and about black lives, but I can't take care of my white friends and keep them away from this conversation. That I need my white friends, and my white family members, and all those people who I love dearly, to be involved in this conversation and this fight.
I need them to know the depths of which I am, and other black people are, impacted by this, this thing that happens underneath their noses, but there seems to be no awareness of it. That's what was going through my head.
There was a line: ‘Even though you're a good person, you have racist tendencies.’ That really hit home. Have people spoken to you about that since then?
Yes. It's complicated, right? This whole thing is complicated and nuanced. There are a lot of trapdoors. For so long, we've all been conditioned to think that it's very black and white – no pun intended, but just like it’s this or it’s that.
I think what I was trying to highlight is you can be a good person, and still be harmful and be unconscious of that. So, now that I'm making you aware of that, what are you going to do? Are you going to continue to live your life as though you don't know? Or are you going to engage, and step up and say, “Wait, how have I been harmful?”
I'm trying to start with: “You know me. We know each other. There are black people in your life that you know, and that you're in relationships with, that you are being harmful to by not engaging in this. So, in what ways have you been doing that?”
It's not about diminishing your value as a kind person or a good person, but it's expanding that and calling that into question. Like, if you are kind and if you are good, and I'm telling you that I'm being harmed by your violence and the violence of people that look like you, then what are you going to do?
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In one video you say some of the worst racism you’ve experienced was from the LBGQT community. It's a hard conversation to have, right?
Yes. Your identity comes on the line. I think people… I might not say, “most,” but I think a lot of people – people that I hang out – are people who identify as kind. That is a part of your identity. Your empathy, and your compassion, and your kindness, and your goodness is enfolded in your identity. You take a lot of pride in that.
So, when I tell you that you've been racist, or you've acted in harmful or violent ways, emotionally violent ways, now your identity is on the line. You’ve got two options: you get defensive, and you fight me and other people like me, and say, “no, I'm not,” or you go, “Oh, shit. I have these blind spots. Yes, that does, that makes complete sense that I've been doing that, and I'm going to do better.”
Have you had people push back in any way?
Of course. I make a conscious effort to not engage with those people, because my approach continues to be that I'm not here to convince people that racism exists or that white supremacy is a thing. It is. So, if you need convincing, then I'm not the person to follow. There are probably other writers and thought leaders who can participate in that. That's not my jurisdiction.
For me it's really about the people who are like, “Yes, I see this thing and I want to learn more about it. I want to learn more about how I am engaged in it and now I can do better.” That's where I spend my time, but yes, of course people push back because, again, you're calling their identity into question.
For all the identity politics around gender, and sexuality, and cis, hetero people being so violent – especially towards the trans community at this time – you would think that identity wasn't an important thing, but it is. Clearly, it is. It is important to us, who identify as non-binary or trans, and it is important to the white, cis, het person, like your identity of kindness. It's all important.
So, when somebody challenges it, of course you get angry or rageful, but it's what you do with that. Are you willing to then allow empathy to permeate and say, “OK, what is going on? Am I getting so angry because there's truth in what this person is saying?”
Everyone has trauma, honestly. When I see people go off on my comments, or push back, I'm like, “OK, cool.” Like, “I struck a chord and there's something that you just don't want to deal with.”
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One of the striking things about your videos is they come from a place of empathy. “Here is what you are – here's how you could be better. Come with me…”
Yes, but that's important. That comes from my grandmother. My grandmother was a minister and somebody who was always like, “you give love, even to a stranger.” My grandmother had really particular views in terms of Christ, and God, and religion, but she never made anyone who didn't follow the same rhetoric feel bad. There was always a seat at the table. There was always a seat at the table to have a conversation or to talk about other shit.
That's important to me because my husband is white. My best friend Meaghan [Oppenheimer] is white, and her husband Tom [Ellis] is white. These people have been there for me in other challenging moments that have nothing to do with race. Meaghan has been with me since we were 18 years old, so of course there has been a lot. I came out in that time. I've had family stuff in that time. I had my grandmother pass away in that time.
Megan was there for all of that. So, in this moment, why would I yell at Meaghan when I know that she loves me and this is just a blind spot? Can I bring this information to her, and to my husband, and to Tom, and to you, and to all these white people, in a way that they feel like it's, “Come along”? “I'm just giving you more information. This is not about shaming you. This has to get better. I need you onboard to get better, so let's go.”
In terms of getting better, are you a believer in radical change, or incremental gains?
Again, this is all complicated. I think it depends on specifically what we’re talking about. There are moments where you're like, “This has to be radical and has to change now.” There are other things where there's value in incremental, but if the incremental is for real. Do you know what I'm saying? There's a lot of talk and it's like, “We're making changes slowly.” No, no, no.
Tom and I are both in the movie and the TV industry. The conversation is, “Yes, more women are getting hired, and more black people.” But that’s taking too long. I'm not here for incremental change in that.
I understand in terms of the system, if people don't have the same amount of experience, because they haven't been given those opportunities, there's a learning curve, right? But at the same time, yes, there are a lot of black, and queer, and female writers and artists who have shows, who are pitching. Green-light them. Produce them. Mentor them. That stuff can happen right away. Again, that's a grey area, right? There's a little bit of both that needs to happen at the same time.
Is this discrimination coming from society and structures, or from the people within them? I suppose it's a bit of both.
A bit of both. It's a cycle. You have to break the cycle. I keep saying, “It's surgery.” Everything right now is like a fucking Band-Aid. That's where the incremental change happens, where people react and they're like, “We made that incremental change and now we're satisfied with that.”
Then people like me come and say, “What? Radical change, then,” like, “If you're not going to continue the process, then let's burn it all down.” But also I think it is surgery. There are parts that need to be cut off because it's not viable anymore. Then there are parts that need a little more precision. We have to go in with a fine-tooth comb and really examine what the fuck is going on, so that we can fix it, in not just a temporary way but in a radical way – ultimately. Even that incremental change is about an ultimate, a culminating radical change.
You use social media to push your message, yet in many ways it feels that social media is almost anathema to the nuanced, complex conversations that need to be had – and also offers very easy opportunities for posturing, basically. People doing the blackout Instagram post, for example, and then moving on with their life.
Yes. I know I keep using it, but it’s complicated.” One hand, the same thing that can help push something forward is also the same thing that can interrupt it and make it stagnant. For me, it's always like, “What is the intention?” If I can always come back to my intention, then I can use it to push forward.
I can't control how other people are using their platforms or how other people are engaging with the platform, but I can control, as I keep calling it, ‘my little corner’ of the Internet. I can control that, if you come to my page, that everything that's posted there's an intention behind it.
The intention is to support us all doing better and being better. The intention is to highlight humanity, and highlight blackness, and highlight queerness, and highlight their intersections, and to humanise myself, my community, to show people how to be a better ally, and to myself be a better ally.
I think the trans community right now is under severe attack. How can I, as a black, queer person who's also under attack, show up for that community? I can, I am, and I will continue to do that.“What is the intention in the use of social media?” is what I always come back to.
How do you choose what videos you post? Is it things that you have thought about deeply? Is it something that’s sometimes just spontaneous?
It's a bit of both. Sometimes it happens immediately, and I know exactly what I want to say, and so I get on there and I say it. Other times, it needs to be mulled around. There's a video that I put up about the lanes of action for an effective ally. I’ve been sitting on that for two months, I've been thinking about that. It has been on a Post-it. That video, specifically, is more of an actionable tool. There was just more thinking, and reading, and thought processing, and watching, and engaging that I had to do before I felt comfortable putting that information out there.
There are a couple videos like that. Where it's like, “I know I want to discuss this thing, but what is the best way to discuss it?” Because again, for me – and I've said this, and I’ll continue to say it – I think that black people get to react, and respond, and say whatever they’re feeling, however they want. Yes? Like, if I'm angry, I get to post that. If I'm sad, I get to post.
I think that black people have lived for so long having to compartmentalise our emotions to make it palatable for white people. That I'm not interested in, but, for me and my page, my intention is for as many people to hear the message as possible. So, it sometimes means that, when I'm full of rage, I just have to sit for a second because I want to make sure that I'm able to pull out.
I'm ultimately an educator, and I want to make sure that I'm able to pull out the learning moment or the teaching moment inside of my rage. That's how I'm using my platform. When you see me on my platform, there has been some work around how do I use this thing – be it a photo, be it a video, be it an article, be it a podcast – to educate whoever is going to engage with it.
I noted earlier how I found the videos came from a place of love and support – whereas anger would’ve been just as valid. As a white person, presumably, it’s easier for me to watch and digest… It's more comfortable, I suppose, despite the fact you’re talking about uncomfortable things.
You might have turned it off. That's just the human reaction. I am also somebody who, personally, if anyone was yelling at me, I'm not very good at that and so I recognise that from my own place of trauma. So, for me it's like, “This is my approach,” but I also think that every other approach is just as valid and important.
It also depends on where you are in your journey of learning. There are certain influencers who are very direct. I need that and I want that from them. That's why I go to their page: because they don't mince words, because they don't make it comfortable.
Some other person may not be at that emotional space in their journey. So, maybe my page is the page for them because I'm a little quieter, a little more comfortable, a little more conversational. I say, “Everyone gets to react how they react” – because some people need a little sugar with their medicine. Some people need their medicine to be a little more bitter.
But the overall goal, for all of us that are black out here, is the same: “Stop killing us. Give us equity. Give us equality. Amplify us. Elevate us. Protect us. Honour us.” It's the same message across the board. So, we'll say it as many ways as possible so that an enormous amount of people can get the message, because ultimately what's most important is that, however it's said, that you get it.
So, how does one be a good ally? Because I think a lot of people want to help but don’t even know where to start.
There's so much – which is why my first thing is fucking take a beat and breathe, right? You aren't going to do it by yourself. It is a collective. It is a community of people that have to engage in this, and it is not ever going to be one person's responsibility to fix it. So, the first step is to take a beat and breathe.
Then it's a matter of jumping in. I keep saying that there are three lanes. There's the political, there's the personal, and there's interpersonal, which I think is helpful because it's a matter of how can you engage in the system? How can you engage with other black people? How can you engage with yourself and other white people? What are you reading? What are you watching? What are you listening to? What are you donating to? What are you participating in?
But the easiest thing is to start in your community. Start with your workplace, your neighbourhood, your apartment complex. Start in your community and build out from there. That's the most important takeaway that I've been trying to impress: there are people right underneath your nose who are dealing with this.
It's wonderful to go to the masses. We do need to do that, but also who's in your community right now, at your job, at your workplace? How are the black people, or the queer people, or the women in your meetings being appreciated or not appreciated, being valued or devalued? How can you use your voice to step up for them? What's going on at your grocery store? Are you shopping at local businesses owned by black people in your neighbourhood? Are there none? Why is that?
As you build your muscle, your allyship muscle, inside of your community, you can begin to expand that out. Now we're talking about politics. Now we're talking about government. Now we're talking about structure and system. Using those community tools inside of that, I think, is the most sane way to approach it. Start at home and build out, because if home is the foundation, and if home is on a rocky foundation, what you're doing out there is going to become performative. You're going to burn out without having actually done anything.
I also say, “What are the three things you can do this month? If it feels like you can do more, then what's the one thing you can do this week?” Like, “I know that I can read Toni Morrison this week.” Beautiful, that's an action. “Next week, I know that I can go to that protest on Wednesday.” Perfect. Meet yourself where you are, and, every week, every day, expand. Expand.
It's when you try to take it all on at once… I had a lot of people reach out after seeing my videos. There were a couple people that I was like, “You're not going to do anything, because you want to do too much. You're ultimately going to do nothing.”
With Tom, it was like, “Let's meet and have a conversation about this. Let's talk about what's the best way to engage in this so that it's sustainable. So hat it's not just, ‘We did it this week. We posted a black square. Goodbye.” No. We want this to be something that we can support doing for long term. I take over his page once or twice a week, as opposed to every single day. That content is sustainable. That's what we're looking for: what are the sustainable ways to engage in this conversation?
It may seem small but if you're able to do it for a long time, it's going to have a lot more impact. A systemic impact, which is what we need, as opposed to reactive impact, which is like, “You posted that black square. Everyone posted their black square. We're all talking about it,” and then it goes away. That's reactive. It doesn't help anyone long term.
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This may be an impossible question, but long term, if the sustainable impact takes hold, what kind of society do you envisage?
It's hard to talk about the timeline. It has been a long time until we got to this moment. I keep saying, “I don't know if we'll see it in our generation, but I hope that we'll be able to set up something sufficient for the generations to come, to continue and to get to it.”
I don't know what the society that will make sure that everyone is equitable and treated correctly will look like, but I do know that education is an important factor in it. Our education systems and how we are approaching education of our children is a huge factor because how we educate our children is a reflection on our personal education.
It's fair to say that for the most part, unless you're going to some rich private school, there’s not a lot of emotional awareness and attunement inside of our education system. You might have a teacher who is in that way and will teach that, but it's not in the system. I think that we need to be teaching emotional attunement, right?
This whole thing, this awakening where good people – good white people – had no idea that their best black friend was being followed, every time they went down the block, is because of the lack of emotional attunement. Not a lack of good people but a lack of value inside of empathy, and valuing asking hard questions, and having difficult conversations, and the lack of value on, how do we hold space for difficult conversations? How do we hold space for people of different identities who are having different experiences, without getting defensive? How do we support them immediately?
We don't. That's not inside of our societies and so I think that we have to get educated on that. That's in the education system, which I mean school, but I also mean at home. It just has to be a value inside of our society, which is ultimately humanity.
So, the society that I envision is one that is emotionally plugged in, where we value inclusion, where you can walk into every boardroom and see an array of people of different identities. As a culture, we know that we're better because of it. We know that we are able to go further because of the fact that, when you walk into that boardroom, it's not twenty white dudes, because there are black women. Not one. There are trans women and trans men. There are indigenous people – again, not one. There are queer people. There are Latinx people inside of that boardroom, who are part of making decisions, who are part of bringing their experiences to the table.
For so long, that has sounded ‘Kumbaya’ and sounded like, “My God, you're so idealistic” but, as I've gotten older and been involved in this fight, it's like, “No, but that's what's necessary.” That thing that we're saying is idealistic is literally what is necessary: that we need to come together as human beings and understand the value of inclusion, and not segregation, not separation, not individualism.
Why do you think it was George Floyd that sparked this movement? Was it because of the visceral impact of the video?
No. There have been videos of other people. There has been audio. There have been photos. Trayvon Martin, the outrage was that there was no video, but then you had Eric Garner being choked. We had video of Philando Castile shot in his car, with his girlfriend and daughter in the backseat. There have been videos of Sandra Bland having that argument with the office who pulled her over, and seeing that he's the instigator in that. There have been videos. There have been audios. There have been photos. There have been accounts.
I think social media is part of it, but I also think the pandemic is a huge part of it. Everyone is at home. It's not as easy to turn the TV off. It's not as easy to ignore the thing, because it's happening. You have nowhere else to be and nothing else to take in except that.
I also think that, as black people – and I'll speak for myself – the pandemic was terrifying. All of us worried about our mortality. It was terrifying. Then to hear about Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and then to watch this video of George Floyd and realise that, even in the midst of a pandemic, it took months to even hear about Ahmaud Arbery, to get that on the docket. Then to watch George Floyd be killed, you're like, “Wow, we're just not safe. There is no safety.” It reached a boiling point.
That's where my first video came from, which was like, “I cannot exist in a world where my husband and I are wearing masks and washing our hands every few seconds. I'm Lysoling the house, and every morning I'm cleaning the knobs and staying six feet away from people. Then George Floyd is being killed, which is basically saying that, as a black person, I can go outside and just be killed, not having to do with the pandemic, just because I'm black.” It was too much. The outrage and the outcry was different, and it had to be.
Then white people who are friends with those black people just couldn't be, “Oh, that's happening over there. That's not happening here.” They had to finally realise that this is a systemic problem.
Do you worry when the pandemic passes, people will move on?
They’re already moving on. Yes, it's already happening. If you talk to a lot of us who are on social media, doing this work and speaking about this stuff, our engagement has dropped a lot from June to now. People aren't engaged. People aren't sharing. People aren't reacting in the same way. The US is starting to open back up. People are going back to their routine and so a lot of people have disengaged.
So, yes, I am worried. I'm very worried that people will completely fall off or that people will feel like it's fixed, like, “We did this and so it's good.” Or, “It's good enough,” and not really commit to the radical change that needs to take place for black lives to matter – to actually matter.
From an English perspective, the gun culture seems like such an obvious problem. I don’t understand it...
I don't understand it! So I'm with you. There are a lot of us that don't understand it, but there are a great many who do. The police is its own fucking conversation in terms of the history of police, why police exist, how policing is being used. It's a brutal front line of defence that really is successful at doing its job, which is to eliminate black people, and people of colour and brown people.
It is something that needs to be re-examined, but the amount of power and money behind them makes it an uphill battle, but 1,000% a huge part of the problem is jails, and how we imprison people, and how we handle crimes, and criminal justice reforms, and the system and the corporation behind it. You have people who are just sitting in jail, waiting for trial, after doing nothing, and who are taking plea deals, who are admitting guilt to something they didn't do, just so they can get back home.
Disproportionately, those people that I'm talking about are black. They're Latinx. They aren’t white people. That's a problem. We talk about, “Abolish the police,” which 1,000% I agree. Then you pull out and you're like, “What is the process of doing that?”
Those are going to be longer, nuanced, complicated conversations, but I do believe that we need to work towards a society in which police are not protected when they do something like kill George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Sandra Bland. They aren't protected when they misbehave. That there is more… I don't even know if it's training, but just like more parameters and more protocol around how police operate, and where police operate, and who they operate with and for.
It's devastating to hear the NYPD endorsed Trump. As a black person, how devastating is that to be in New York City and know that the NYPD is endorsing Trump? In what way are you supposed to feel safe? In what capacity are you, as a person of colour, as a queer person in New York City, supposed to feel safe when the people who are sworn to protect and serve have endorsed somebody who so clearly does not give a fuck about black, poor, queer, trans, Latinx, immigrants?
Is it not terrifying that 40% of the population are going to vote for him, regardless?
Which is why we have our work cut out for us. It's a horror movie, I think. America is on the world stage and we're watching a horror movie play out. It has been playing out, but if he wins… It will not be good.
Would you have a conversation with a Trump supporter on your Instagram?
No, because that can be very harmful. I'm engaging, but it's not about … For me it's about, like, reading. I'm going to read what you're saying. I'm going to read what's going on, but I think that the energy, oftentimes, is about defensiveness, and proving points and whatever. As I said in the beginning, I'm not here to convince anyone that white supremacy is real or that racism is a thing.
Historically, that campaign or that voter doesn't believe that black lives matter and doesn't believe that trans rights are human rights, and so I'm not. Somebody else can do that, but I, emotionally, do not have the capacity to sit down with that person. That does more violence to me. If it's public, it's more emotional violence to my viewers.
Do you agree with the Biden nomination? Rather than the more radical Sanders or Warren?
I don't know if it's about agreement or disagreeing. It’s understanding that it all comes to education, right? I’m not talking about academic or school. I am talking about how our society emotionally operates, and knowing that our society understands that change is not good.
That's how we operate, is that change is not good. Nobody likes change. We like the way we do things. We haven't been indoctrinated in our education, both academically, both emotionally, both spiritually at home, that change can be a good thing. That's not a cultural norm. So, it makes sense to me that a Bernie or a Warren doesn't get the nomination, because that is ‘change’. That is ‘boom’.
It has to be incremental. This is a place where it's like, “Okay, this is going to be incremental,” and so these are the candidates that we've picked and I stand behind because we’ve got to get Trump out, but I also understand – and I think they understand, or I hope – that it’s like, what is the overall goal? We all know we’ve got a problem that needs to shift. This is a step in that direction.
In a certain way, just you can't go from A, and skip the whole alphabet and get to Z, right? You do have to take B, C, D, E. That can be frustrating. We can have all of our emotions around it, but I think the important thing is that we are moving towards the thing that we want to, as opposed to what we have been doing, which is staying stagnant and letting shit slide.
I think that that's why 2016 happened, because we weren't asking enough questions. We weren't engaging enough in our politics. I am fully transparent and say, for me, Obama being elected, it did feel like, “OK, we did it. Okay, cool, everything's good.” I know that I'm one of millions of people who responded in that way, and completely neglected to have more nuanced conversations – not even about Obama but just about our system, and how that operates, and how people are feeling. What's going on with the other people who voted for Trump – who ultimately voted for Trump? What are they dealing with?
I had no engagement in that. A lot of people didn't have engagement with that. This time around my commitment is to be holistic in the approach, is to not just get my blinders on but to really look at the entire picture and get an understanding of not just my views but, like, “What are these other views? What the fuck is happening in this country that I live in?” So that I can support getting to that ultimate society that I hope that we get to.
For more info, visit Brandon Kyle Goodman's website