It aired across 19 different Discovery-owned networks simultaneously in primetime, which means on outlets like OWN, HGTV, Food Network, Animal Planet, and the Travel Channel—in other words the channels that program content that people typically flock to in order to escape the harsh realities of the news and the world.
But, even if only for an hour, it was significant that programmers rallied and said, “No cooking competition, no home makeover specials. Tonight we’re going to confront and learn.” Specifically, learn about systemic racism in the United States and how the black community feels about the state of our country at this pivotal moment.
Of course, a gesture is only one thing. The crucial bit was how raw, emotional, and informative the two-part special was.
The assembled panel, which included actor David Oyelowo, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Nikole Hannah-Jones, was frank about grief and the personal toll of black Americans’ long history of trauma and oppression. They were candid about their exhaustion with cycles of violence and the same conversations they trigger, and specific in their breakdowns of the systems supporting the country’s racist backbone—without watering down or censoring information, as could have been the case in other news forums.
Wednesday night’s second part of the Where Do We Go From Here? focused on white privilege and action items: What is the ask? What tangible action does the black community want, and what results do they expect from those actions?
“I want to talk about that word ‘privilege,’” Winfrey said. “I think especially for middle-class and working-class white folk, it’s been a difficult term for them to accept or to grasp. I’ve heard friends of mine say that the word doesn’t resonate because the word ‘privilege’ is associated with affluence...I think that for a lot of people, white people in particular, that word is hard for them to accept. Maybe a more descriptive term is advantage.”
The echo from night one of the special is that every person on the panel, every black person in their office, and many black people in America have been asked by the white people in their lives what they should be doing right now. To that point, there’s both a need for that information request, but also a burden to it.
Hannah-Jones spoke about white privilege and the false assumption that if a person is struggling in their life, they’re not still privileged—the difference between struggling in a system meant to move them forward versus one that is meant to push them back.
“White privilege is swimming in a stream and you’re swimming in the direction that the stream is going. You’re swimming along with the current,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that you’re not working hard. It doesn’t mean that you’re not struggling. But it means that you’re swimming along with the current. The black experience means working hard and swimming against the current.”
Journalist Charles M. Blow added, “It’s easier to understand privilege when you think of privilege and oppression existing in a seesaw. You are only up because I am down. Privilege is a relevant position. If there was no oppression there would be no privilege.”
A powerful moment came when Oyelowo considered what white people need to do, beyond validating and recognizing privilege—which is the first step—in order to upend systems of oppression.
“What is also not being acknowledged is that baked into the inception, the foundation of America as a country, is that white privilege,” he said. “We were stolen from a continent and brought here. The knee on the neck started there. But also foundationally, America was built with a knee on the neck of Native Americans. It happened to the Mexicans as well. It’s something that this nation was built on.”
We are realizing now that there is something wrong with American society, that “there is a sin baked into this country and how it was built,” he said. He is finding himself in the confusing position in recent weeks of helping white people through the tears of their own pain in realizing this. But what needs to happen, he said, appealing to the country’s spiritual DNA, is “they need to realize that they must repent for this sin in order for there to be salvation beyond.”
Then came the asks: where do we go from here?
Blow asked for commitment. Don’t ask him for the quick solution—where to donate, where to march, who to be angry at—and then disappear.
“I need our allies to demonstrate to me that you can break the cycle of disappointing us, because you have been doing it the entire history of this country,” he said. “I don’t want you to be out in these streets because you’re embarrassed. I don’t want you to be out in the streets because you’re against cruelty, but not my full equality. I want you to be all the way in with both feet.”
He also urged for a Civil Rights Bill of 2020, “a broad concept,” he admitted. “And we shouldn’t be shy about being bold. That’s how you negotiate anyway.”
DuVernay talked about one project she and other artists have collaborated on, the Law Enforcement Accountability Project, which will use narrative change to amplify the identification of cops who kill black people.
“We can no longer have this blind spot where we don’t know their faces and names,” she said. “Right now if Tamir Rice’s murderer walked up to any of us, would we know him by face? Can we say his name? But we know the names of our brothers and sisters who have been murdered?”
Then came the chorus: Vote. Vote down the ballot, because it’s local leaders that affect your community. Convince others to vote. Hold politicians who court the black vote accountable for policies that directly benefit the black community. Keep voting in years to come, so that progress doesn’t stall.
And push for police accountability. “Police will not stare into a camera and murder a man if they don’t think they can get away with it,” said Hannah-Jones. Vote to reform police departments, “so they are not occupying black communities, but policing black communities.”
More footage and talking points from Where Do We Go From Here?—and there’s so much more to unpack—is available to stream on the Watch OWN and Discovery Family’s TVE apps, as well as OWN’s Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube channels.