A how-to guide for tough talks: A review of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man sits in front of a vase of purple and pink flowers and a green plant.

Let me first start off by saying this: Every. One. Needs. To. Read. This. Book. ASAP! While I have been trying to read more diverse writers from all backgrounds more in the past year of reading, I really didn’t start reading nonfiction again for fun until last summer. Last summer’s acts of police brutality and the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement that followed really showed me how much I personally had to learn, so I worked much harder to read Black voices, both in fiction and nonfiction. Out of the many books I’ve been fortunate to pick up in the past year by Black writers, this one has got to be one of the best.

Quick synopsis: “Emmanuel Acho believes the only way to cure our nation’s oldest disease–racism–starts with a profound, revolutionary idea: actually talking to one another. No, seriously. Until it gets uncomfortable…and then some.”

What I loved most about this book was Acho’s deeply conversational tone, full of heart, compassion, and empathy. Truly, no topic was off the table, ranging as far and as wide as allyship, interracial families, the n-word, implicit bias, and much, much more. As a reader, it brought a deep sense of comfort in feeling as if I was simply sitting with this guy, talking about race over a cup of coffee or something of the sort. While it was full of historical and cultural research along with Acho’s personal experiences, it never felt dry or academic, but truly felt like a conversation with a friend.

That feeling of comfort and friendship perfectly balanced out the other side of the book — namely, feeling “uncomfortable.” And yeah, there were loads of moments where I was incredibly, wildly uncomfortable. I mean, talking about the n-word, for example, isn’t easy! I’ve grown up knowing it’s a word I shouldn’t say, but I never really understood why Black people could call each other that. Acho answers that question and so many more in a way that educated and enlightened me, but didn’t make me feel bad or upset or hurt as a non-Black person. Rather, I felt like I better understood the experiences of my fellow human beings and how conversations like this could help me become a better ally, friend, and antiracist willing to fight the good fight.

Race isn’t a dirty word and it isn’t something that should be shied away from. Racism, however, stems deeply in the systems that make up our society, and I loved Acho’s perspective that on an individual basis, having these tough conversations — really getting comfortable with being uncomfortable — is a step in the right direction toward true allyship and fighting against racism.

I still have loads to learn and much room to grow when it comes to my own personal journey in becoming a better ally, but this book gave me some much-needed, actionable tools in my arsenal to help get me there. I would without a doubt recommend this book to anyone looking to start or continue their journey to learn more about race and what to do to help end systemic racism in our communities. This would make a great individual read or be perfect for a book club to discuss with friends, family members, or others in your community also seeking to learn, grow, and ultimately get comfortable being uncomfortable.