In mid-October, Head of School Chris Gunnin had the opportunity to talk with Emmanuel Acho, sports news analyst and host of “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” The two St. Mark’s graduates discussed Acho’s experiences in high school and beyond, as well as what led him to create his new video series.
“People called me an Oreo — black on the outside and white on the inside,” Acho said, recounting a hurtful comment he frequently heard in his youth. “I kind of laughed it off, but then I realized just how derogatory that was. My peers were saying that I am too smart and I dress too proper to be black.”
“I wish my peers had known that I felt uncomfortable, that I didn’t fit in,” added Acho, the son of Nigerian immigrants who went on to play in the National Football League (NFL). “I wish one of my white classmates had taken me in, included me, even though I might not look like them.”
If hearing Acho described as an Oreo causes you discomfort, he would consider that an important first step toward racial reconciliation. Acho believes lack of communication is a major barrier between people of different races in America. He was compelled to create “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” last summer after the police killings of George Floyd and other black men and women. Acho believes the years he spent growing up in Dallas, “immersed in white culture,” enable him to serve as a “translator” for blacks and whites alike.
He describes the program as “a conversation … about race that many white people have never been able to have.” He hopes the online platform will heighten communication and understanding among white people and those of color by serving as a “safe space” for difficult conversations. Through his videos, he seeks to dispel common misconceptions that white people have of blacks and to tackle tough race-related issues in America, including white privilege, national anthem protests in sports, the Black Lives Matter movement, defunding the police, “reverse racism,” interracial dating and use of the N-word, among others. And America is listening. The first episode of his program, which he filmed and produced himself, garnered more than 28 million views on YouTube.
During his video call with Gunnin, Acho addressed the importance of seeing and being seen for who you are. “People say, ‘Well, I don’t see color; I see everybody equally,’ Acho noted. “The intention of not seeing color and of treating everybody equally, it comes from a great place. But to not see my color is to not see me. My color, by blackness, is just an attribute of who I am. Don’t undermine that, don’t redact that, don’t take that away from me, because that is who I am.
“You wouldn’t walk outside, look up in the sky at a rainbow and say, ‘I don’t see it, I’m colorblind,’” he added. “Because there is a beauty in creation. There is a beauty in being white, there’s a beauty in being black. There’s a beauty in being brown…. See color, acknowledge and appreciate color, and treat my color equally.”
Acho recently published a book with the same name as his video series that was released on Nov. 10, the day his discussion with Gunnin was shared in Middle School and Upper School Chapels. The book offers a deep dive into conversations that he hopes will help mend the racial divide in our country.
When asked by Gunnin about the shift from playing in the NFL to being a published author, Acho responded, “There’s a difference between your career and your calling. You career is what you’re paid for; your calling is what you’re made for. Never neglect your calling.”