‘Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man’ host Emmanuel Acho tackles racism in new book backed by Oprah Winfrey.
“I'm talking to Oprah and then we talk on FaceTime and she says, ‘Emmanuel, what is your intention?’ And I said, ‘well, my intention is to bridge the gap towards racial reconciliation,’” Acho told Yahoo Life.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hey, everybody. I'm Brittany Jones Cooper, and I want to welcome Emmanuel Acho. He's a former NFL linebacker and host of the video series Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, which he has now made into a book. Welcome, Emmanuel.
EMMANUEL ACHO: Brittany, thank you for having me. Good to see you.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: The video series popped up this summer, I mean, it went gangbusters so quickly. What do you think made you kind of uniquely perfect to be the one facilitating this kind of conversation right now?
EMMANUEL ACHO: And I don't know how unique, but what makes me qualified is that I am fluent in white culture and fluent in Black culture. It's not just about color. It's about culture. But because of my immersion in culture that was white and Black, I understand, Brittany, that there's a language disconnect. And so I just try to stand there and almost act as a translator or facilitator.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You growing up in those two different worlds, how did that inform your identity?
EMMANUEL ACHO: My parents were born and raised in Nigeria, so I grew up in a Nigerian household, Nigerian culture. On Monday through Friday, I was white culture, but then Sunday, I went to church in the hood and Wednesday I went to church in the hood, so I got a little bit of everything. I had a confused identity, Brittany, because I got Emmanuel, you don't even talk like you're Black, or Emmanuel, you don't even dress like you're Black, or Brittany, my all time favorite, Emmanuel, you're like an Oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside.
And so I started questioning my own Blackness. I look Black. I'm pretty dark, too, if I were to say so, but maybe I'm not Black. It wasn't until I got to college where I was like, wait a second. I had this twisted, this identity crisis, I'm Black by birth and Black by skin color. Now what they were trying to say is, Emmanuel, you're not the stereotypical Black-cultured person that is portrayed on TV. That's what they were trying to say, but that's not what they said.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: How do you choose the guests that you want to sit down with?
EMMANUEL ACHO: The guests choose themselves. Matthew McConaughey, after episode one, I got a call. Acho, McConaughey speaking. I want have a conversation. Well, I say, well, McConaughey, I'm going to do an episode in four days. He says, let's do it tomorrow. OK, McConaughey wants to do it tomorrow, we'll do it tomorrow. I needed McConaughey early on, because the world just wants to see somebody they know and recognize. If McConaughey can do it, anybody should be able to.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: And when did you decide to take the video series and then translate it into a book?
EMMANUEL ACHO: It was Oprah Winfrey, and you know, I'm talking to Oprah, and then we talk on FaceTime, and she says, Emmanuel, what is your intention? And I said, well, my intention is to bridge the gap towards racial reconciliation, and I think I can change the world, and she says, well, I want to partner with you, 'cause I see your heart, and I see your, your fervor for this, and I want to partner with you to do it. So Oprah and I instantly start working on Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, the book.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Has there been a moment in one of your interviews where it got too uncomfortable for you?
EMMANUEL ACHO: The most uncomfortable moment for me was when I asked this 12-year-old Black girl named Story-- her parents were white. I said do you wish your parents raising you were Black, and it was almost as if you could hear a pin drop. I asked her that with her parents sitting there, so was like, your answer will lead to tears either way. Either way, somebody is going to start crying, and she said no. I just want them to love me for me.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: What chapter for you was the hardest to write or really communicate?
EMMANUEL ACHO: The hardest to write was probably systemic racism, because there are so many things in that chapter that I need people to acknowledge are real, but I need you to grasp the concept that there is a systemic fracture in our society, and you can't fix a problem you don't know exists. I'm letting you know it exists. Let's all please work to fix it.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Do you ever get tired of having the conversation about race with white people?
EMMANUEL ACHO: I don't have time for fatigue. Like, change has to happen. It's not going to be for a lack of me speaking that white people don't hear. The conversations are bigger than me. The book is bigger than me. I didn't write the book for me. I didn't start the episodes for me. I was not trying to go viral off having racial reconciliation conversations. That is not, that was not the goal, but the man met the moment, and here we are.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Absolutely. Well, thank you, Emmanuel, for all the work you're doing. Thank you for the video series and the book. And if you guys want to check out the book, it's available now wherever books are sold. And if you want to check out the video series, make sure you go to UncomfortableConvos.com. Thanks, Emmanuel.
EMMANUEL ACHO: Thanks so much.