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Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man summary

Emmanuel Acho

An introduction to race and race-related issues in America

4.3 (52 ratings)
26 mins
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    Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man
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    To talk about race in a meaningful way, we need to think about the words we use.

    Black lives matter. That simple statement has had an explosive effect in the United States and abroad. It has raised some uncomfortable questions, too. Most fundamentally: Why is it necessary to point out that we should care about the lives of Black people? 

    If you understand how hard life can be for Black people today, that question probably makes you uncomfortable. But the author believes that the only bad questions are the questions that remain unasked – as long as we choose our words with care.

    The key message here is: To talk about race in a meaningful way, we need to think about the words we use.

    Words matter – a lot. So one of the first difficult questions we have to ask is this: Should you say “Black” or “African American”? It’s a complex question with a lot of history behind it.

    Since the American Civil War, several different terms have been used. In the early twentieth century, colored was popular because it worked for people of mixed ancestry as well. In the mid-twentieth century, Negro came into fashion before falling out of it – in part because the term was originally imposed on Black people by white people.

    In the late 1960s, the preferred term became black, but 20 years later, African American received strong support from civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. He argued that this term celebrated African cultural heritage.

    Not everyone was convinced, though, and today both African American and Black have their advocates. The author’s own preference is for black with a lowercase b, as he considers it the most inclusive term.

    And then, of course, there’s the N-word and the classic uncomfortable question that goes with it: Why can’t white people say it?

    A little history can help here, too. The N-word was used as an insult as early as 1775 and remained widely used until the civil rights movement. These days, Black people sometimes use it when talking to each other, and it’s famously used in rap lyrics. But such usage is a reclaiming of a word that remains incredibly powerful – and incredibly harmful when used by white people.

    When a white person says the word, they say its whole history – stretching back to the time of slavery. The implication is that they still think of Black people as second-class citizens or even as deserving enslavement.

    Given that, is it that much of a sacrifice for white people to stop saying the N-word?

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    What is Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man about?

    Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man (2020) is an introduction to race and race-related issues in America. Talking about these issues can be uncomfortable, but by being unafraid of dialogue, we can learn that the difficulties Black people in America face today are best understood through US history.

    Who should read Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man?

    • White people looking to understand the conversation around racism
    • Concerned citizens who want to make a difference
    • American history enthusiasts

    About the Author

    Emmanuel Acho grew up in Dallas and played in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles. Since leaving football in 2016, he has worked for ESPN and Fox Sports. In 2020, he created the video series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. This is his first book.

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