When Stephen Colbert and Killer Mike spoke for their entire races, the talk got real.

It's rarely advisable to speak for anyone but yourself, let alone an entire race.

But on a recent episode of "The Late Show," Stephen Colbert threw caution to the wind during an interview with Atlanta-based rapper, activist, and barber shop aficionado Michael Render (aka Killer Mike).


GIF from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/YouTube.

Segueing into some real talk about race relations, Colbert assumed the mantle of spokesperson for all white people.

Render, in turn, accepted a role as the bass-y voice of Black America. And so the stage was set for an exchange that, between lesser humans, could have gone horribly awry.

Image from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert/YouTube.

"This year, if I can speak for all white people ... a lot of people in the white community have found out about the life of African-Americans in Ferguson, Baltimore, North Charleston, other places around the United States," Colbert noted. "Do you think that the awareness that has risen through these tragedies has changed anything, at least in our national dialogue?"

With that, Colbert and millions of viewers entered the rap star's classroom.

"If white people are just now discovering that it's bad for black or working people in America, they're a lot more blind than I thought," said Render, clearly unburdened by political delicateness. (He does, after all, go by Killer Mike.)

He explains that the conversations about race these days are essentially the same ones people were having in the '90s.

Former NAACP president and congressman Kweisi Mfume (left) and conservative activist Ralph Reed discuss a spate of black church burnings on "Meet the Press" in 1996. Photo by Richard Ellis/AFP/Getty Images.

And the '80s.

In a 1981 interview, Republican political consultant Lee Atwater (not pictured) infamously revealed that the Reagan Administration was completely aware that their "Southern Strategy" would be economically harmful to the black community.

And the '70s.

Members of the Black Panther Party were publicly abused, forced to strip bare in front of press cameras, and arrested by Philadelphia police officers after a raid on the human rights group's headquarters in 1970. Photo via the Urban Archives at Temple University.

And the '60s.

At the 1968 Olympics, sprinters Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos raise gloved fists during the medal ceremony as an act of protest against racial inequality in the U.S. Both were suspended from the team. Photo by Mondadori Publishers/Wikimedia Commons.

Colbert fired back with a question that gets to the heart (and head) of the matter.

"So again, speaking for all white people, what can we do to bridge the gap? ... You own barber shops. Should white people start getting their hair cut at black barber shops? There are conversations going on there ... that we're not part of."

"Yes, I hope so," said Render. "And white people pay $50 for haircuts, so absolutely."

With a hearty laugh and a hand through his mane, Colbert simply replied, "Yep."

Jokes aside, Render went on to urge fortunate white people to step away from the familiar by mentoring poor black and brown kids. It's not just about doing something good for another person or having a reason to pat themselves on the back.

More importantly, he says, it's about building a culture of empathy toward people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

Watch the full interview:

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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