“If the White person is your problem, only the White person can be your solution.”
Emmanuel Acho posted the first episode of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man to his social media this week. The Nigerian-American NFL player created it in response to those looking to him, asking how they can help in the current climate. “So many of y’all have reached out to me, and by y’all, I mean White people,” he says, before diving into why we must be fully educated to understand the pain and to stand with him and the others who are fighting for equality.
Dear white people,
For days you’ve asked me what you can do to help. I’ve finally found an answer.
Let your guard down and listen. pic.twitter.com/74SVv8XOqp
— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) June 2, 2020
“You can increase your level of compassion and lead ultimately to change”, he explains, with the aim for each episode to create a “safe space to answer so many questions”. The first question broached is in regards to the riots that have been occurring across the United States.
Martin Luther King said that “rioting is the language of the unheard”. Emmanuel explains that the riots happening across the US and across the world are in no way the first of their kind. He lists several peaceful protests that have taken place over history, including the Selma March in 1965 and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee in 2016 – both of which “didn’t work”.
“And so now we’ve seen riots because Black people and hurt people are trying to get the attention of the oppressor”, he says, giving the analogy of when he collided with a small girl while riding his bike. Despite calling our several times for her to change her course of action, the girl did not hear him, so they collided. The same thing is happening with these protests. For years, Black people have been calling out “We’re oppressed”, but it has not been heard and now the collision is inevitable.
Whilst he is not condoning the violence and the riots, Emmanuel explains that, for many who are actioning this, they are experiencing one of the five stages of grief: anger. “Sometimes, emotions, they don’t know their actions,” he says. “Sometimes, pain and hurt [don’t] know how to express [themselves].”
The next question Emmanuel tries to answer in this video is “Why do you think White privilege exists?”
Emmanuel explains White privilege by comparing it to a foot race. If someone is given a 200 meter head start, the only way to make it a fair race is to allow the other person to catch up. That is the same as what has happened with the rights given to citizens. Although Black people have been told they are free to run, we cannot act as if it is a fair race when they were held back for hundreds of years. Emmanuael quotes LBJ and says, “You can’t shackle and chain someone for hundreds of years, liberate them to freely complete with the rest and still justly believe that you’ve been fair.
“White privilege is having a head start of hundreds and hundreds of years due to systematic and systemic racism,” he continues.
Emmanuel stresses that White privilege does not mean your life hasn’t been hard. It means your skin colour hasn’t contributed to the difficulty in your life. “If I ever go to my mailbox and see a White woman go to hers, I consciously sit in my car,” he explains. “If I’m on an elevator with a White person, I try to hit button first and get off the elevator first.”
As a Black man, Emmanuel says he does these things because he recognises that “Whiteness can be weaponised”. An example of this is the video that surfaced on social media of a woman named Amy Cooper, who called the police on a Black man in New York’s Central Park and falsely claimed he was threatening her life.
Emmanuel explains that is a “death sentence” to a Black man. He says this incident reminded him of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was lynched in 1955. Till was lynched by two White men after a White woman made a false claim. The two White men were never prosecuted. “That, to me, is White privilege, the ability to weaponise your Whiteness and the ability to live life unconsciously, because I as a Black man have to calculate every move I make the second I walk outside my house.”
The next question discussed is “How come Black people can say the ‘N word’, but we can’t?”
Emmanuel admits that he himself had to do some research to be able to answer this question as best he could. “The ‘N word’ is synonymous with oppression, execution and subordination,” he explains. For so long, Black people were seen as no more than slaves to a master, and hearing that word said by a White person causes a visceral reaction, as it reminds them of the pain felt by their ancestors. “Black people took something that was meant as evil and we turned it into a term of endearment.”
Whilst it may seem confusing that Black people can say it when White people cannot, Emmanuel says you should remember – “we’ve been oppressed for so long. Our rights have been limited for so long that for you to now try again to limit our speech, it’s painful.”
The final question brought up in the video is “How come Black people care more about White on Black crime than Black on Black crime?”
Emmanuel explains that, whilst he cares about both, there is an imbalance that needs to be addressed, “When a Black person commits a crime, they go to jail, but when a White person commits a crime, they get off.” Ahmaud Arbery was a Black man that was chased and gunned down by two White men in Georgia. It took two months of fighting for those perpetrators to be arrested.
“The only reason we did, is because we saw the video,” Emmanuel says. “Imagine if camera phones didn’t exist.”
Black on Black crime is an issue, but all violent crimes are interracial. No race is exempt from the crimes they commit. Prioritising White on Black crime is the same as saying Black Lives Matter, instead of All Lives Matter. “We understand all lives matter, but right now Black people are dying at the hands of White people – and I can’t change that. Only you, my White friends, can change that.”
If you want to know how you can help and stand with those fighting, Emmanuel explains that “you must first educate yourself, so you know exactly what you’re standing for and why you’re standing for it”.
“Consider this a safe space to educate yourself,” he finishes, and asks those watching to leave their questions to help him help you. “Remember, silence is compliance.”