Don Cheadle Pleads With White Friends and Colleagues: "Get on the Front Lines With Us"

Don Cheadle - Getty - H 2017
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The actor joined a conversation on NBC titled 'Can You Hear Us Now?' dedicated to making progress with race relations in America.

Joining the conversation about race in America, NBC News and NBCBLK — the production arm dedicated to the black community — presented on Tuesday a broadcast titled Can You Hear Us Now? with guests including Don Cheadle, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Campaign Zero co-founder Brittany Packnett Cunningham. The event was hosted by MSNBC's Trymaine Lee.

Near the top of the show, Cheadle gave a window into his experience as a young black man growing up in America, noting that he learned early on from his parents how to deal with law enforcement. The actor lived in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots and has had guns pulled on him by the LAPD multiple times, he said. Referencing the racism that exists within American culture, Cheadle emphasized, "This is a systemic, institutionalized problem that we are all fully aware of."

As Lee asked whether explaining black trauma to white people is a necessary step toward meaningful change, Cunningham spoke of how the people affected by the oppression also carry the burden of correcting the oppression, emphasizing that it is more difficult amid a global pandemic.

Hannah-Jones suggested that a panel be offered that includes the white community speaking about what they plan to do about these issues. Cheadle encouraged white friends and colleagues to join the conversation, extending a challenge to "get on the front lines with us."

Later in the broadcast, the actor continued, "It's not going to be easy, especially with this leadership, and I use that word incredibly loosely." He added that meaningful change is possible, but "it's not going to happen if we rest."

Cheadle suggested that the community must learn how to carry this energy over into plans of action, voting, filling out the census, making sure they are seen and heard. "It's a cyclical thing, and it can lose steam," said Cheadle, noting that people can get weary and tired — immune systems can't take it. "We have to do it right now," he said. 

Thinking about whether this country can create change, versus whether the community at large has the will to actually do it, Hannah-Jones questioned the latter. She emphasized that Americans can do it — just as change has been created through history — though she does not think America has the will. "But we certainly can if we choose," she said. 

Lee went on to ask Cheadle about unconscious bias versus conscious racism, and the actor said, "both are absolutely at play every day." He said that many of his friends, good people who are kind and perform well-meaning roles each day, are just realizing the distinction between these now and that the impact of inaction is significant.

"We might not be at the greatest point of this yet, and that's terrifying," said the actor, considering how extreme certain events have been in history in order to create lasting change.