LOS ANGELES - This summer, amid racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd, Emmanuel Acho launched "Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man", a YouTube series that would go on to spawn a best-selling book of the same name.
In the process, Acho, a former NFL linebacker, who co-hosts Speak For Yourself on FOX Sports 1, brought together Americans of various backgrounds, opening the floodgates on a series of frank, honest, viral, and, yes, uncomfortable, conversations about race in America.
This week, Acho joined Elex Michaelson on The Issue Is to discuss the success of, and inspiration behind, Uncomfortable Conversations, communication barriers between White and Black people in America, how to properly approach sensitive racial issues in everyday life, working with Oprah Winfrey, his hopes for 2021, and more.
THE ISSUE: "UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN"
BACKGROUND: Since launching in June, Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man has featured the likes of Matthew McConaughey, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and Chelsea Handler, garnering more than 13 million YouTube views in the process. When the eponymous book was published in November, it debuted in third place on the NY Times Best Sellers list, selling 18,000 copies on its first day of release. In the wake of his success, Michaelson asked Acho to elaborate on the inspiration and goal of the Uncomfortable Conversations brand.
ACHO’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I’ve realized, Elex, the issue in our country, is there’s a communication barrier… Black people and White people, yeah, we may all speak English, but it’s translated differently based upon the culture in which we grew up, it’s translated differently based upon the environments in which we grew up… I just wanted to help my Black brothers and sisters in this topic, I wanted to help my White brothers and sisters understand more, and rather than doing that in a divisive and argumentative way, let’s just do that in a way that has truth, that has grace, but also has love embodied as well…"
THE ISSUE: WORKING WITH OPRAH WINFREY
BACKGROUND: In August, following the successful launch of Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, Acho joined Oprah Winfrey on her Apple TV+ show, The Oprah Conversation, to discuss, among other subjects, being Black in America. Months later, Acho’s book was published under Winfrey’s publishing imprint, "An Oprah Book."
ACHO’S CENTRAL TAKE: "[Oprah’s] been an integral partner now in all things Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man… Let me tell you what she taught me, she said this, she said ‘Emmanuel, do not base your show off of famous people, because eventually, you will run out of famous people.’…Oprah sits me down and she’s like ‘don’t base your content off famous people, base your content off the content itself,’ and that stuck with me, because then I realized that these conversations aren’t about fame, and these conversations aren’t for fame, and these conversations aren’t brought from fame, these conversations are about you, and me, and every other person who walks their everyday life in their White skin, or their Brown skin, their Black skin, these conversations are for the world…"
THE ISSUE: HOW TO BEGIN UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RACE
BACKGROUND: A central theme of the Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man series and book is to create "a dialogue that is honest, straightforward, and accessible to those seeking answers…a conversation that needs to happen to mend the racial divide in our world." Given that premise, Michaelson asked Acho how viewers, especially White ones, can begin to tackle those "uncomfortable conversations" in their everyday lives.
ACHO’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I think that varies from person to person…. If I was someone like you speaking, my opening line is ‘hey, I apologize for my ignorance, let me preface with the fact that, look, I am admitting that I don’t know everything about everything, now that I am admitting that, let’s have a real conversation.’ We can’t grow through trepidation, Elex, our world will not evolve out of being timid, the only way we can grow is through discomfort… No one cares what you know until they know that you care, so, I would start the conversation just simply ‘I care about you, I’m having this conversation because I want to be better for you and for myself, and I apologize if I say anything out of ignorance that may offend you, now that we have gotten that out of the way, here goes nothing’…"
THE ISSUE: WHITE PRIVILEGE
BACKGROUND: In Acho’s effort to "mend the racial divide," Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man dives head-first into a series of fraught race-related subjects, including cultural appropriation, reverse racism, language, and White privilege. Michaelson pressed Acho to expand on his explanation of privilege, which Acho did through the prism of track and field.
ACHO’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I love track and field… if y’all know anything about track and field, everyone starts at the starting line, well, at times, there can be a stagger, and that stagger is to make sure that you equate the distance around the track. But here’s the kicker, Elex, I propose that in America, my White brothers and sisters got a 200-300 year head start over Black people - Black people were enslaved, then there were Jim Crow laws - so, if now the starting official says ‘okay everyone, you can go, and you can run freely,’ and we might submit that the race is equal because, well, there’s no slavery now, there are no Jim Crow Laws now, we have to remember, there was a 200, 300-year head-start, there was a gap that has yet to be made up… I submit this, Elex, White privilege is not saying ‘your life hasn’t been hard,’ White privilege is simply saying ‘your skin color hasn’t contributed to the difficulty of your life’…"
The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.