Policy Forum

Conversations with Al McFarlane

On June 12, 2006, Al McFarlane and Adrian Hamilton-Butler, co hosts of Conversations With Al McFarlane, interviewed actor Joseph Phillips, culture advocate Vivian Jenkins Nelson, business owner Monica Hines, health advocates Roxanne and Robert Tisdale, and Women Venture executive Amy Barringer at KFAI-FM 90.3 Broadcast Studio. On June 12, 2006, Al McFarlane and Adrian Hamilton-Butler, co hosts of Conversations With Al McFarlane, interviewed actor Joseph Phillips, culture advocate Vivian Jenkins Nelson, business owner Monica Hines, health advocates Roxanne and Robert Tisdale, and Women Venture executive Amy Barringer at KFAI-FM 90.3 Broadcast Studio. The interview was broadcast live and rebroadcast the following Saturday, June 17, 2006 on Independent Public Radio (IPR) Network affiliate, KMOJ-FM 89.9. The broadcast started with questions about Phillips’ new book, He Talk Like a White Boy.

Al McFarlane: Tell us about the premise of the book. Why the name, first of all, and what are you doing in this book?

Joseph Phillips: He Talk Like a White Boy is about values, about those things that we all share in common, that we inherit, I believe, as Americans… values of family, faith, idealism. These are the things that bind us together as Americans. They transcend race. They transcend political affiliation. They transcend economic position.
The title comes from something that happened to me in the eighth grade. I was in accelerated English class, which is like the gifted programs that we have now. I answered a question in class, and a Black girl from across the room raised her hand and said, “He talk like a white boy.”
And that was kind of the beginning of my life. That accusation has followed me, as I began to date as a young man, as I became an actor and moved into show business, and then as I began to write a weekly column. The accusation changed from “talking like a white boy” to “thinking like a white boy.” And so this kind of goes to this question of authenticity: What is it to be authentically Black. Who is it that decides?
Ultimately, what I would like to do is to move beyond what I consider to be very narrow and constricting definitions of race and racial authenticity. I would like to move beyond labels and move to some higher ground where we again begin to talk about the things that we have in common. These things, I find, far more important: the importance of faith, our love of family in our lives, our love of this great country — these are the things that I think are far more important and that bind us together.

Al McFarlane: Well, let’s put that in context. Tell us who you are. Who is Joseph Phillips? And I raise the question to give you a chance to say, “I’m the son of, and the grandson of, and the great-great grand son of . . .” What is the lineage? And who are you in the context of your being an American today? You’re a Black man. You’re African American. What else are you?

Joseph Phillips: I’m not sure I understand the question, but this is the way I would answer it. You tell me if I missed the point. I’m a husband. I’m a father of three beautiful boys, ages 8, 6, and 4. I tell everybody that they are loud, stinky, and ashy, just like little Black boys should be. They are healthy, energetic, and bright, and I have been blessed to be given the opportunity to raise them. I am a writer. I’m also an actor. I’m the son of a pediatrician and school teacher. I grew up in Denver, Colorado in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. So that’s kind of where I come from. Does that answer your question?

Al McFarlane: That’s part of it, but run back — who is your grandfather? Who are your grandfathers and great-grandfathers?

Joseph Phillips: No one has ever asked me that question before.

Al McFarlane: And the spirit of the question is what genes make up Joseph Phillips? What is your genealogy?

Joseph Phillips: I’ll skip a couple of generations. I’m named after my great-grandfather Joseph Bassilio Phillips who was from Tortola, and that’s on my father’s side.

Al McFarlane: I don’t know where Tortola is.

Joseph Phillips: Tortola is an island in the British Virgin Islands. Tortola is,

July 10, 2006
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CONVERSATiONS W/ AL MCFARLANE