What specific instance crystallized your conception of race?
It must be noted that I didn’t grow up in the civil rights movement or have people shouting “nigger” in my face; living in North Carolina, however, my own people tried to instill the notion that if you’re trying to be accomplished, then you were trying to be white or labeled an “Uncle Tom.” That’s when thing began to crystallize. I came to see how deeply scarred we are as a people and what that means, as it pulls us back into mediocrity instead of pushing us up to greater heights. “You’re so ashy … so dark … African booty-scratcher.” It’s crazy that it’s so deep and entrenched in us. I’ve been a victim of it and even used it. It’s on a very subconscious level. Look at how beauty is defined in America and everything that you see in Hollywood. It’s not surprising that minority groups internalize that. The possibilities and limitations on one’s own (or cultural) success is stamped on your brain a million times before you hit the sixth grade. By the time a child grows up, especially without proper care, it takes a lot of strength for someone to erase all of that from his or her memory bank and turn it down.
If you could change one thing in the black community, what would it be?
I really wish that when African-Americans were freed, circa 1865, we would have been given full economic and civic participation in society. Imagine what 40 acres and mule would be worth. Imagine the culture of entrepreneurship, had we not been locked out of the political arena for so long or being suffered the second-class citizenship of race and economics. Money talks and green is the ultimate force in our culture. Out of 35 million African-Americans, we only have two billionaires: Oprah [Winfrey] and Bob [Johnson]. (This point shows that we are just now getting to participate at the highest levels of society.) America is a capitalist society and people don’t have to help you. Economic empowerment is the source of real power. People have to help themselves.
If you could meet any black pioneer, for a day, who would you select? Why? What would you talk about? What questions would you ask?
Malcolm X. At the end of his life, he was changing. I’m interested to know the internal struggles he was going through and the strategies he would have tried to implement (had he not been assassinated). I always admired him. He had a fascinating air about him. He was always was depicted as a counter against Martin, as a separatist, since he wasn’t always supportive of non-violence. But if someone harms your family, what would you do?