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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

What I'm Reading: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

"Proximity breeds care. Distance breeds fear."

The words were spoken by Fox Sports analyst and former NFL player Emmanuel Acho in his YouTube series, Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, which came out this summer. The series sought to answer some of the most taboo, sensitive questions that white people have about race in an effort to increase understanding and appreciate each other's humanity. The book follows a similar thread.

"I believe an important part of the cure," Acho writes about racism in the intro, "is to talk to each other." He goes on to assert that it's tough to "hold bigoted thoughts about someone whose humanity you recognize … It would take some next-level self-deluding to discriminate against someone you respect enough to listen to."

Acho's appeal to common humanity is reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's approach, who remarked that "love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."

That doesn't mean the book is always pleasant. "Uncomfortable" is in the title for a reason. But through each difficult topic (every chapter addresses a question a white person has asked in response to the video series), Acho is a steady and patient guide, intent on sowing awareness and empathy.

2020 has undoubtedly been one of the most difficult years of our lives. But while physical distance became the norm, the social justice movement - and efforts from people like Acho - brought proximity to the many racial injustices in our country. That proximity, as Acho predicted, has produced care.

Olympic gold medalist and track & field athlete Tianna Bartoletta illuminated this idea in a video clip of her discussion with Dr. Michael Gervais. The headline? "Not caring is a privilege."

As a white man who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, the topic of race (or my privilege) wasn't something I ever had to confront head on. Because of that, reality was easy to avoid. The story I tell myself is that I knew it wasn't a level playing field and that black people faced more obstacles than I did. But when an alarm goes off on a cold winter morning, it's easier to hit the snooze button and stay under the covers. Indeed, this year has been a (much) needed awakening.

Acho closes the final chapter by writing that "ending racism is not a finish line that we will cross. It's a road we'll travel."

And for what path lies ahead, his book is a useful guide.

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