Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay and More Call for Urgent Reform: "Our Country Is in a Moment of Reckoning"

In the second part of her conversation series, Winfrey hosted Black leaders to discuss white privilege and the actions that must be taken to tackle racial injustice.

Oprah Winfrey continued to have an open conversation with black artists and activists on Wednesday aimed at determining how America can help eradicate systemic inequality and racism.

Winfrey's two-night conversation, called "Where Do We Go From Here?", featuring director Ava DuVernay, former U.S. Rep. Stacey Abrams, actor David Oyelowo and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, among several others, comes in wake of the ongoing nationwide protests following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who pleaded for air as a Minnesota police officer kneeled on his neck. The special is airing on OWN and Discovery Networks 18 other networks and is available to stream on YouTube.

The in-depth conversations were moderated by Winfrey and aim to offer insight and tangible plans to answer the questions facing the country: "What matters now?" "What matters next?" and "Where do we go from here?."

When kicking off their second conversation, Winfrey acknowledged that "our country is in a moment of reckoning," adding that systemic racism is rooted inside the "psyche and soul" of America. "Will we, in this moment in time, do better?" she pegged the question to the audience. Winfrey then turned the focus to the term "privilege" and how this moment in time has made the term "difficult" for many to "accept or grasp" because the term can be associated with "affluence." Winfrey advised that a more descriptive term could be "advantage." 

New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones compared white privilege to that of "swimming along with the current." "The Black experience is working hard and swimming against the current," she said. Journalist and author Charles M. Blow compared privilege and oppression to that of a seesaw, in which the privileged are always up if others are down. 

Though Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms celebrated that society is discussing privilege in the first place ("we're having a real conversation about what it means," she said) she noted that usually any conversations about white privilege would have to be had "behind closed doors." 

Later on, Oyelowo explained that the foundation of the country has been built on privilege and because of that the country needs to repent: "Privilege is baked into everything," he said, also explaining that Floyd wasn't the only one who experienced a knee to the neck but also Native Americans and other discriminated races as well. 

Professor and author Jennifer Eberhardt offered another take on privilege in which she explained that it's already problematic that "white people are not taught to see color." She noted that researchers have shown by the time white children are 10-years-old, they're not supposed to talk about race. "Color blinders is offered to white Americans as a way to fight injustice, but it actually promotes that injustice," she said. "When the goal is to not see color, those children don't see discrimination." 

When the conversation shifted into what legitimate actions can be done to help tackle racial injustices, Winfrey acknowledged hat the easiest solution is voting because it is "one of the most empowering things anyone can do." After Abrams argued that "voter suppression blocks progress" from being made, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II added that the poverty-stricken class needs to be made more of a priority in debates and elections. 

As to what is "urgent" to do right now, Oyelowo said that police reform is needed, whereas Blow expressed hope for a "Civil Rights Bill 2020." Meanwhile, American University professor and How to Be an Antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi urged for an anti-racism America. "The ask is removing from our vocabulary 'not racist,'" he said. For Abrams, she cited three things as her "ask" including: Calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the Heroes Act; citizens to fill out the census and "vote like your life depends on it." 

When Color of Change president Rashad Robinson expressed his hope that films and television challenge the images they show onscreen that can ultimately help feed into stereotypes and judgments,  DuVernay agreed. 

Though having tackled racial injustice in her projects, DuVernay admitted that the image of Floyd brought her to her knees because she could "see both faces in the frame clearly looking at the camera." "I can see that officer clearly and it led me to think, 'wow I usually don't see the officer.' Usually the officer is behind the body cam. Just seeing that officer's face and knowing that officer's name, just witnessing who he was and what he was doing is something that's been missing. " She said that artists must commit to a "narrative change" and depict stories that will prevent audiences from having a "blind spot."  

Mayor Bottoms hopes that leadership is restored in the country and urged citizens to fill out their census forms and send the things they want changed in their communities to their state leaders. "If we don't hear the voices, we don't know what people are crying out for," she said. Also acknowledging that the world continues to live amid a COVID-19 pandemic, Bottoms reiterated that anyone who has been a part of mass gatherings must get tested. "The chances of us getting COVID-19 and dying are higher than most and we all have to be around to make a change for this country in November," she argued. 

Following Floyd's death, protests against police violence have taken place in all 50 states, with high-profile Hollywood attendees such as Michael B. Jordan and Keke Palmer. A myriad of Hollywood companies have shared statements whereas some, including Comcast and Bad Robot, have also announced donations. 

Police officer Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video pressing his knee into Floyd's neck, was charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were at the scene were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All four officers have been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

See the full second episode of "Where Do We Go From Here?" below.