The comedian talked to PEOPLE about his frightening collapse and his new book, Surrender, White People!

By Sam Gillette
July 08, 2020 03:12 PM
D.L. Hughley
Bobby Bank/Getty

D.L. Hughley is assuring fans he's healthy and feeling great after he collapsed on stage at a Nashville stand-up show on June 19, and later tested positive for the coronavirus. But he regrets that he unintentionally exposed others.

"It's kind of scary to know that you were walking around and potentially hurting people, endangering people and you had no idea," Hughley, 57 — who was asymptomatic at the time of his collapse — tells PEOPLE.

In a candid interview featured in this week's issue, the comedian discusses the "scary" incident and the connection between the battle against racial injustice — which is the premise of his new satirical book Surrender, White People! — and the virus.

  • For more from D.L. Hughley, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

He also discusses his fears for his 32-year-old son, Kyle — not only because he also tested positive for COVID-19, but because of his identity as a Black man in America. 

"COVID-19 wasn't why I passed out. I was dehydrated. I had always had this heart murmur," says Hughley when explaining what led to his fall on stage. "When you get dehydrated and you have that, it's kind of a double whammy. I've been tested. I feel great now. Off of quarantine and I'm ready to hit it again."

While Hughley doesn't think the coronavirus is to blame for the incident, he was upset to learn that Kyle and some of his radio show crew got positive COVID-19 results. (They got tested the day after his show.)

"That was really a frightening time," says Hughley, who is also dad to daughters Ryan, 33, and Tyler, 29. 

Hughley sees parallels between being an asymptomatic carrier of the virus and people who benefit from white privilege, which is the focus of Surrender, White People! In the book, he uses his trademark humor to address the stark divisions in society that stem from centuries of white supremacy. His solution involves a reckoning with America's history, reparations, and a hard look at oneself.

"I was asymptomatic, but that didn't mean that I wasn't doing harm. I was unaware of the part I was playing. I was putting people in harm's way, through no active will of my own," the author says. "Racism is like that same thing. Just because you're benign, just because you're not participating, just because you're not doing anything actively to hurt anyone, doesn't mean that it's not happening in your wake."

In the book, Hughley also recounts his experiences with racism. When he was selling his house in L.A., his real estate broker asked him to take pictures of his family off the wall. Then the home was appraised at $160,000 less than its actual value. When the bank asked the appraiser why he valued the house so low, he said, "Because it is what I say it is", Hughley remembers. (The appraiser was later fired and Hughley's house was re-appraised.)

"They took that real income. I could have bought another home and sent my children to school, paid investors, or whatever it is that I wanted to do with $160,000 more," Hughley says. "He took it away from me just because of racial bias," he claims.

Hughley wants to protect his kids from these racially-charged situations, but he's especially fearful for Kyle, who has Asperger's syndrome.

The dad of three explains how disturbing it was to learn of Elijah McClain's death. McClain was a 23-year-old Black man who died after he was put in a chokehold by police and given a sedative. "I'm just different," McClain repeatedly told police officers before his death in August 2019, according to the Associated Press.

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"That young man apologized to the officers that were killing him. When you look at George Floyd calling the man who was killing him, 'Sir,' that's my biggest fear for my son," Hughley says. "I think that you can't be a parent of a young Black child, particularly a male, and not have those conversations."

Hughley struggled when he learned that Kyle had coronavirus.

"The first thing I thought when I came down with COVID and he got it too, was that I endangered him," says Hughley. "I did the very thing I was afraid society would do, which was put my son in and people I love in jeopardy. That made me very sad. That makes me very sad, still. The very things that you try to protect them from, you unwittingly have played a part in. That's difficult to navigate."

Now that he and Kyle are both healthy, Hughley's focus is his art and promoting his new book. While Hughley started writing long before the killing of George Floyd and the national Black Lives Matter protests, he sees a deep connection between the book and the current movement. 

"The thing about the book is, people now are doing what the book always wanted us to do," he explains. "Which is people to surrender the idea, notice the white privilege and to start to come together and make us all part of this grand experiment."

The actor is inspired by the diverse coalition protesting for change.

"What does give me hope is the varied array of people who are literally risking, in some instances, life and limb for something that doesn't personally impact them," Hughley explains. "You look at what happened to the protestor in Buffalo and how he was pushed down. Now he may have brain damage. You look at young people who have been shot with rubber bullets and beaten with billy clubs."

He adds: "They do it with a vigor and an earnestness that I don't know that I have ever seen. That gives me hope."

Surrender, White People! is on sale now.

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