Lifestyle

My Son And I Watched 'The Oprah Conversation' Together -- This Is What We Learned

Charday Penn/Getty Images

The other night, I sat down to find something mindless to watch, something to allow me to escape from the high-anxiety, increasingly emotional world that has become my social media. Far away from friends who still don’t get the Black Lives Matter Movement (some three months later), I needed a television show to remind me that other people’s reality is just as complicated. Far away from the pages of “friends” who post insensitive memes or, dare I say, the Trump supporters who are so proud of their president (gag).

My 13-year-old son and I settled into finding “the” show to watch. Our new AppleTv app led us to The Oprah ConversationOprah’s brand new streaming series — and we watched the first episode. The first guest in her series was Emmanuel Acho, ex-NFL player and now the host of the series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. We sat there and listened, our ears glued to every word and to each perspective, curious to how deep these conversations would go.

Through a series of interviews and conversations, Oprah and Emmanuel set out to unpack white privilege and racism. We heard all sides, and each voice mattered in this particular discussion. They mattered for many reasons, and what my son and I both walked away knowing after watching this show is this: slavery is over, segregation has ended, but racism and division are both alive and well in our America.

Jonathan and I watched white people talk about their perspectives and identities which were rooted in their whiteness. They talked about their actions; some described how they would cross the street if a Black man was walking towards them. Some talked about living in a diverse community, yet they have no Black friends to speak of. Some talked about how their kids listened to Black music artists and thought it was okay to use the “N” word (it’s not, by the way, whether you’re Black or white or any color).

When the episode began, I felt burdened by real life: the pandemic, working from home, adjusting to summer without summer camp, face masks, hostility, and the conflict of unfriending people from my social media accounts. Too exhausted to swipe up on my Facebook page in fear of what I might find, when the episode ended, I felt hopeful. I felt hopeful because I saw in the faces of the white people on the screen, and those of Emmanuel and Oprah — that there is a common thread between us all. We are sewn together by humanity, by what I hope is the innate desire to be helpful in another’s time of need.

In the faces of the people in this conversation, I saw a reflection of the people in my own life, perhaps some too scared to say these exact words to my face (“I don’t have Black friends” or “Black men scare me,” or “I say the ‘N’ word when listening to a song”) while others are bold enough to hide behind their Facebook pages to say what they feel in their hearts.

Some of it is blatantly racist, yes. But there is also a huge sense of simply not knowing, being uneducated, misguided by hearsay, or a family’s long-held beliefs, or close-mindedness, or whatever “it” might be that is holding them back from being educated about their neighbor’s history, their coworker’s ancestry, the history of the United States — educated about Black people.

We need to continue to learn about each other. It is not a one-sided task, it is not a one-way street; we are in this fight together. And together, we can win. So many of us have already lost so much: Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. But we keep getting back up because the battle has yet to be won. Part of “the work” is being uncomfortable, as Emmanuel so eloquently tells us. Get his book, and learn a little more.

I am not telling white people to go out there and get a Black friend just to have a Black friend. But to those who are ready and want to understand a people who have long been misunderstood, get to know a Black person. And once you do, listen to them. Hear them. Ask them how they are, and look them in the face when they tell you how they feel. Believe them. Stand with them. Don’t try to “make things better” for them, but don’t allow yourself to continue to be the problem by forgetting how to be kind, genuinely kind. We must all educate ourselves about one another, and if I can do the work to get there — to take the steps to make the effort, to be the only Black woman in a room — anyone else can do the same. Even white people. Especially white people.

Slavery has ended, and yet at times, we are still shackled by our fears which only segregate us from one another, keeping us apart.

The barriers dividing us now are the ones we place on ourselves, the rampant divisiveness that we push around, wielding it like it is going to protect us. Protect us from what, exactly? Each other? And who does that serve? As parents, as humans, we have to grow up and connect the dots in front of us. If your neighbor’s house were on fire, would you sit in yours and watch theirs burn to the ground? If your co-worker’s child became sick, say, with a terminal illness, would you not show some level of compassion? I hope you would.

This is what we need for one another: compassion and kindness. Without them, we get nowhere. We need to hear one another out, look one another square in the eyes, have conversations, void of politics or social issues or assumptions that we know the plight of others — take me as I am, and for who I am, dark skin and all. And I will do the same for you.

At the end of the day, we are much more alike than we are different. Our beliefs may be different, but we can all appreciate an act of kindness, especially when it comes from the heart. Listen hard enough to hear the call for compassion. Be that compassionate person for someone, regardless of who they will (or will not) vote for this November. Regardless of how they live their lives, show up for them. Because one day, you will need someone to show up for you too.