Black History Month often provides an opportunity for African Americans, and others, to pick up a book written by a Black author which addresses a subject of controversy or which seeks to provide insight to one of those lingering societal ills.
And so, I recently picked up a first-person narrative written by a former NFL player, a brother of course, which had been sitting on my desk amid a stack of other books that I had purchased months ago and which had accumulated more dust on its cover than I’d like to admit.
“Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” penned by Nigerian American Emmanuel Acho, surprised me in more ways than one. I purchased the book thinking that it would be a tell-all about life from the perspective of a college football star who had made it to the pros before moving on to other ventures.
Instead, “Conversations” serves as an exploration into what Acho describes as “our nation’s oldest disease — racism.” And while he clearly states that he wants to uncover a way to cure America of this hateful sickness, it’s his solution that took me by surprise.
Rather than point to a plethora of ideologies, philosophies or sure-fire cures, Acho posits that the best way to rid our nation of this centuries-old scourge is to begin with “a profound, revolutionary idea: actually talking to one another.”
By connecting his own experiences with race and racism, factoring in his unique vantage point as the child of Nigerian parents born in America — and therefore forced to undergo the same kinds of prejudice and misguided assumptions about who he is because of the color of his skin — as well as his observances as a student in a white-majority prep school and majority-Black NFL locker rooms, he brings a unique perspective to the table.
Acho, also employing lessons of history and culture and the wisdom of other Black voices, takes the reader on a fascinating journey. The result is an easy-to-read guide to the kinds of conversations he believes all Americans, regardless of race, should be having both to increase our understanding and to help us in the battle against racism.
What’s most refreshing is Acho’s refusal to omit topics that may make some readers wiggle in their seats and shake in their boots. Those fighting against the latest controversy in education, critical race theory, will find his book highly offensive and disturbing because nothing is off the table.
The book is replete with honest reflections and conclusions that require action. It’s refreshing and informative from cover to cover. But it’s also raw.
Are you ready for questions like, “why it’s not okay for white people to use the N-word?” What about, “does reverse-racism exist?” And try these two provocative questions: “Should you teach your kids to ‘see color’?” or “Why white privilege isn’t just for the wealthy?”
Acho’s book should be required reading for all Americans — especially for anyone who honestly wants to both understand and eradicate racism.
Each chapter includes a recommended list of essays or books for those who want to add more tools to their arsenal. In addition, the author begins every topic with a quotation from some of America’s greatest minds, race notwithstanding.
Acho reminds us of a lesser-known but unarguably profound reflection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that I have since made one of my favorite.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
If we are honest about bringing an end to our nation’s oldest disease, then now, as Acho asserts, is the time to listen, to learn and to speak.
There can be no further delay.