by Chris Dertz
Polymath (noun): a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning. Emmanuel Acho is the textbook definition of a polymath. Born in Texas to Nigerian immigrants, Acho grew up in a family that placed a high value on education and helping others who are less fortunate. An accomplished athlete in high school and a highly decorated college football player at the University of Texas, Acho was drafted in the 6th Round of the 2012 NFL draft and spent parts of the next three seasons as a member of the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants. After his NFL career ended, Acho entered the world of sports media as a radio and television host. Acho also sings and plays the piano. More recently, he has published his first book, the best-selling “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man”, based on a series of YouTube videos that have been viewed millions of times. This article will review the book and show how coaches and teachers can use it to better connect with their students and athletes of color.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I, titled “You and Me” highlights contemporary issues which are manifested in individual acts and expressions of racism and discrimination. In this section of the book, Acho discusses the proper way to refer to people of color and why he personally prefers the term “black”. The following concepts are defined and explored: implicit bias, white privilege, cultural appropriation, the media’s depiction of the “angry black man”, and why white people should NEVER use the “N”-word.
Part II of the book, “Us and Them”, details the mechanisms of racism and how those systems have been used historically and currently to oppress people of color. Chapters include an analysis of systematic racism, reverse racism (spoiler alert…it’s not a thing!) and how social, economic, and judicial policies at the local, state, and national level have negatively impacted the black family.
“We”, the final part of the book, gives Acho’s assessments about current events regarding race and his thoughts about what is still needed to overcome racism. In this section, Acho talks about the interracial family, why protests sometimes turn violent, how white people can help, and what a post-racial world might look like.
Each chapter in the book details a particular concept or issue. The chapter will begin with a question received by Acho via email from someone who watched the YouTube series. For example, Chapter 9, “The Fix: Who’s Governing the Government”, begins with the question, “What’s the best way to make the most impactful contributions to dismantling the institutions and policies meant to keep POC (people of color) at a disadvantage?” Acho will spend a few pages giving examples of the issue. Then, in the “Let’s Rewind” section, he will detail the history behind the issue. Next, in the section titled, “Let’s Get Uncomfortable”, he will show how these issues are perpetuated and how white people continue to benefit from them. Lastly, he ends each chapter with a section titled, “Talk It, Walk It” in which he gives real, actionable ideas that people can use to help with the issue.
As a white, middle-aged social studies teacher and coach who has never had many students of color in my classroom or on my teams, I found this book to be highly effective in presenting the perspectives of a black person living in America in 2021. The book is a valuable resource for other educators and coaches like me who not only want to learn more about the experiences, opinions, and perceptions of black people but also the actions we can take to support the struggle for equality. Don’t just put this book on your list. It should be prioritized. If you are reading another book right now, take a break and read “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man” as soon as possible!
Acho ends the book by saying, “Ending racism is not a finish line that we will cross. It’s a road we’ll travel”. For those of us who want all of our fellow Americans to finally enjoy the fruits of freedom and justice, “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man” is the perfect guide to start that journey.