2020 has been a long, crazy year, but some conversations are just beginning.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And Oprah said, “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”
Racism, police violence, and White privilege are at the center of social and political conversations right now. This year alone, we’ve seen the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, riots in cities from Atlanta to Portland, and heated discussions about racism and privilege in the national arena. Tensions are high, and with so many loud voices, it can be hard to hear anyone clearly.
It’s time to talk about racism in America in a new way — and that’s where my guest today comes in. Emmanuel Acho is the host of the incredible web series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” which opened doors for people of all races to ask the pressing questions and talk about racism in a productive way. Now, Emmanuel is turning his conversations into an incredible new book — a must-read. And today, Emmanuel is joining me here on The School of Greatness for a candid conversation — this is not an episode you want to miss.
“The easiest way to open the conversation about race is to talk about white privilege.” – Emmanuel Acho
Today, Emmanuel and I are doing just that. In our interview, we talked about White privilege from a standpoint of respect and love. We talked about the origins of Emmanuel’s video series and why he felt the need to reframe the conversation about racism in America. And we talked about how we can all approach these conversations in our own lives.
Friends, this conversation is incredible, but it’s also extremely important. We need to learn how to have productive, respectful, and loving conversations around race, and Emmanuel’s here to help us do just that.
Today, Emmanuel Acho is famous for leading the conversation around race and privilege, but did you know that he used to be an NFL linebacker? He played for the Philadelphia Eagles before retiring from football and taking a job as an analyst for Fox Sports 1. It’s always a joy to talk to a fellow football player!
Emmanuel Acho was born to Nigerian immigrant parents, and the whole family has been involved in African missions work since Emmanuel was little. Emmanuel’s compassion and desire to do the hard work it takes to help have been ingrained in him his whole life, making him the perfect person to lead the conversation around race relations in America.
In June 2020, Acho launched a video series titled “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” which opened a virtual conversation with White America about race relations, racism, and educational and economic inequalities. The show has exploded this year — reaching over 70 million views and widespread media coverage. The series has led to his new New York Times best-selling book under the same title.
Emmanuel Acho was also on Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2018, and he runs the non-profit organization Living Hope Christian Ministries with his family. Living Hope Christian Ministries strives to create new medical facilities, schools, orphanages, and more resources for the Nigerian people.
I’ve been looking forward to bringing Emmanuel on the show to talk about his success and the work he’s been doing to start uncomfortable but necessary conversations about racial injustice issues in our society. Our conversation was extremely powerful for me, and I believe it will help a lot of you as well.
Before I dive into some of the heavier stuff that Emmanuel and I talked about in our interview, I want to talk a little bit about his journey and how he came to be the host of “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” It’s an incredible story, and I think we can all learn something from it.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder earlier this year, Emmanuel knew he needed to do something. He recognized that we’re living in a country where Black and White people simply do not have an adequate understanding of each other, and he set out to do something about it. That led to the very first episode of “Uncomfortable Conversations” — a 9.5-minute monologue from Emmanuel kicking off the series.
That was on a Monday; the next day was Blackout Tuesday, the day when the music industry protested the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor on social media. Within four days, Emmanuel’s video had over 25 million views on YouTube! And two days after that, he got a call from an unknown number:
“‘Acho, [it’s] McConaughey speaking.’ What the hell?! How’d you get my numbers? No caller ID — ‘McConaughey speaking. I want to have a conversation.’ Like, ‘Yeah, man, let’s have a conversation!’ … So episode two, McConaughey, episode three, Chip and Joanna Gaines, four, I’ve heard from Oprah, and now I’ve moved to LA.” – Emmanuel Acho
It happened that quickly — Emmanuel found himself moving from Austin, Texas, to LA in a matter of days because this conversation took off so quickly. He very quickly realized that his calling in life was to lead these uncomfortable conversations, and things almost immediately fell into place.
I think callings tend to work like that. We don’t always expect them, but when they show up, they show up hard and fast — all we need to do is be ready. I love the way Emmanuel put it:
“So many times we see no caller ID numbers [we think,] ‘I don’t want to take that one,’ right? … Your calling will call you — pick up. I was called to this moment. I did not want to do this. … It’s what I had to do.” – Emmanuel Acho
What do you feel in your heart you have to do? If you don’t know yet, that’s okay! But keep an ear out — your calling is going to call you, and I hope you’ll pick up when it does!
Now onto the uncomfortable part of the interview. During our conversation, I was excited but also nervous. I know that Emmanuel and I are similar in a lot of ways — we both have experience playing football, and we both love having incredible and inspiring conversations — but I also knew that I needed to challenge and humble myself as a White man. Thankfully, Emmanuel had a ton of amazing wisdom to share, and while our discussion was definitely challenging and uncomfortable, we were never unkind.
One of the things we focused on first was the difference between Black and Black culture. There’s a key distinction between them, and Emmanuel did a really good job of explaining it:
“I’m getting all the time, ‘Emmanuel, you don’t even talk like you’re Black,’ right? ‘Emmanuel you don’t even dress like you’re Black,’ or, I mean, … ‘You’re like an Oreo — Black on the outside, White on the inside, right?’ … There’s a difference … between color and culture. You can be Black and be White-cultured. … I finally realized when people would say, ‘Emmanuel, you’re not even Black,’ what they were saying is, ‘Emmanuel, you’re not Black-culture[d],’ right? And we need to do a better job delineating between the two. A Black person is Black — it don’t matter if I’m White cultured or not.” – Emmanuel Acho
Emmanuel attended a White private school from fifth grade through high school, and as a result, he became a Black person who is White-cultured. He learned to dress and talk like a White kid. However, when he got to college and then the NFL — which is primarily Black- cultured — he experienced a shift. Suddenly he felt he could be more himself because he was in the same space as a lot of other Black people.
Emmanuel talked a lot about this tension in regards to adoption: Is it right for White parents to adopt Black children or vice versa? How should parents handle raising a child of a different racial and cultural background? Emmanuel’s answer? Make sure they know who they really are:
“I would say adopt who you want, bro. What we know is needed in this world is more … love. … That’s what we need. So if someone is willing and has the ability and empathy to look beyond their skin color and love someone who doesn’t look like them, I will never, ever, ever, ever try to put a rule, restriction, or boundary on love. … Now what I will say is: … It is imperative [that you] do not remove your kid’s culture.” – Emmanuel Acho
To any White parents out there raising an adopted Black child — help your kids celebrate their culture! Allow them to experience it — look for ways for them to experience the Black community where you live, and help them experience the joys of both your culture and theirs — they’ll be better off for it.
Now we get to the meat of our interview: In a society where Black people face negative stereotypes and even violence, how can White people respond? What conversations do we need to be having with ourselves? Emmanuel had several great suggestions:
The first question White people need to be asking themselves right now is, “Do I understand White privilege? And does my White privilege make me feel uncomfortable?”
So what is White privilege? It’s easy to get confused, but White privilege actually has nothing to do with money. Privilege might have to do with your economic status, but White privilege doesn’t. Here’s how Emmanuel describes it:
“All privilege is immunity from certain punishment or access to certain things based upon something. … Let’s talk White privilege. White privilege is not saying your life hasn’t been hard. It’s saying your skin color hasn’t contributed to the difficulty of your life.” – Emmanuel Acho
Let’s face it: As a White man, my skin color really has not contributed to the difficulties I’ve faced in life. That doesn’t mean my life hasn’t been difficult or I haven’t struggled, but my skin color has not been a factor in those difficulties. I don’t find myself watched extra closely when I walk into a store, and people don’t automatically assume that I can’t afford a Rolex. I don’t have to make eye contact with a White person when I walk into a room so that we can have each other’s backs in case anything bad happens, but according to Emmanuel, these are things Black people experience all the time.
And here’s the thing: While not all White people have privilege in the economic sense, all White people have White privilege. Just by having a lighter skin color, we have an advantage over the Black people in our communities because of the way our society is — and that’s pretty messed up.
So what can we do about it? If you’re uncomfortable with your White privilege, how can you come to terms with it in a way that helps Black people? Let’s take a look at Emmanuel’s second question:
In our society, it’s very easy for White people to flow through life without often coming into contact with Black people. Unfortunately, our spaces tend to be very segregated even though segregation was outlawed in the mid-60s, and as a result, we just don’t talk to one another enough.
“It wasn’t enough to outlaw segregation. We should have mandated integration. … We gravitate toward things we are familiar with. My coach would always tell me, … ‘Don’t be like water. Water takes the easiest route. If I were to pour water on the ground, … it would just navigate the path of least resistance, and that is what we do.’” – Emmanuel Acho
Think about the places you go every week — they’re probably filled with people who look like you. Have you ever heard the expression, “birds of a feather flock together?” It happens all the time. And as a result, White people and Black people don’t come together to communicate, be friends, and celebrate their common humanity nearly often enough. So what’s the solution? Start intentionally seeking conversations.
“Until you have these conversations, until you get out of your box, you don’t realize — wait a second, we actually are more alike than we are different. Not to say that we don’t have differences, but we actually have a lot in common. So while the birds of a feather may flock together, imagine what they can do [if] they really started to speak and talk and understand other people.” – Emmanuel Acho
Start seeking ways to interact with Black people in your community. Emmanuel recommended attending a Black church — that’s an easy way to find yourself in a space with a lot of Black people where you can actually have a conversation. Start looking for your common humanity — you may be surprised to find that you have more in common with your Black neighbors than you thought.
That’s the final question Emmanuel recommended that White people ask themselves. We have this White privilege, and it’s unjust that our society gives us an advantage because of something we can’t control. But the good news is that we can use our privilege to help our Black friends and neighbors.
“America is not a meritocracy. … It’s not based on how hard you work [to] achieve your success. It’s based on nepotism — people hire their family — and cronyism — people hire their friends. … How are you using that privilege to change the matrix?” – Emmanuel Acho
All of us who are White can use our White privilege to benefit those around us. It could be as simple as sticking up for your Black friends and neighbors when other White people make racist comments intentionally or unintentionally. Call out racism when you see it! In that way, you use your authority and privilege as a White person to support the Black people around you.
This conversation was uncomfortable and so, so powerful. I learned a lot from my brother Emmanuel. I want to acknowledge him for constantly showing up, following his calling, and having these uncomfortable conversations. He has already changed millions of lives, and I have no doubt he’ll change millions more. He’s opened up conversations between Black and White people that might never have happened, and he’s helping White people to become educated and start understanding and using their White privilege to benefit minorities around them. Emmanuel is doing incredible work in the world, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Before I sign off on this one, I want to share Emmanuel’s definition of greatness:
“My definition of greatness would be: How great can you get those around you to become? When you think about the great Michael Jordan — those around him, too, became great. Tom Brady, football player — those around him, too, became great. [With] ‘Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” — I’m hoping that those around me, too, become great in the sense of humanity.” – Emmanuel Acho
Emmanuel definitely lives up to that definition. He’s helping all of us to become a little greater every day.
Thank you so much for joining me today, friends! If you loved this episode, please screenshot it and post it to Instagram. And make sure to tag Emmanuel, @emmanuelacho, and me, @lewishowes, so that we can hear about your greatest takeaways!
Also, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Emmanuel’s new book, Uncomfortable Conversations with Black Man. We’re coming up on the holidays, and this is a perfect gift to get a friend, family member, or even yourself!
Until next time — keep opening up those lines of communication. The more we come to understand our brothers and sisters who may have a different skin color, the greater we become.