Transcript: Race in America: Giving Voice with Elaine Welteroth

Transcript: Race in America: Giving Voice with Elaine Welteroth

MR. BREWER: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Jerry Brewer, a sports columnist at The Post.

Joining me today is Elaine Welteroth to talk about her new dinner salon series, “The Conversations Project.”

Elaine, welcome to Washington Post Live.

MS. WELTEROTH: Hello, hello. Thank you so much for having me.

MR. BREWER: It’s going to be fantastic. Let’s get started. First of all, it’s not often that you see a sports writer in a sports coat. I tried to dress up a little bit today for a distinguished former fashion editor, but let’s just explain a little bit about why we’re here, why are a sports writer is here. “The Conversations Project” was co-produced by ESPN’s Andscape, which is an online publication dedicated to Black identity from sports to culture. So tell me about how you got involved with this project, and I believe you came in a little bit later. So why did you want to be a part of it?

MS. WELTEROTH: Well, first of all, you clean up nicely. Okay. You look nice. I like the structured shoulders. Thanks for dressing up for me. I’m going to turn–speaking of–I’m like big on–we have to have a little color in the background. So let me turn this around this way. Okay.

Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me and for shining a light on this new series. “The Conversations Project” is really a show that I think the world needs more of, and I am big on really lending my voice and my energy and my time to things that I think the world needs more of, and this is certainly one of those projects. It’s, you know, an opportunity for people to come around the table in a safe space and break bread while breaking down some of, you know, the really meaty topics that are facing our community right now and to debate and to, you know, hear different perspectives, again, in a safe environment.

I think this isn’t the safest time in our country for differing opinions, and the internet doesn’t offer a lot of room for nuance, and this is a platform that embraces nuance and different opinions. And we have people from every different, you know, part of our country and our world and our world coming together from different industries, different ages, and so it’s really an intergenerational, intercultural, kind of interfaith communion of some of the greatest minds of our time within our community, many of us who never met each other before but have admired each other from afar. We have an astronaut. We’ve got, you know, sports figures. We’ve got rappers. We’ve got politicians. We’ve got, you know, executive leaders. We’ve got actors, comedians, you know, journalists, just all coming together to have––to your question about why I wanted to be a part of it. I want to be a part of that, you know, an invitation to a dinner like that. You know, I think that we–.

[Pause due to technical difficulties]

MR. BREWER: I’ve seen it twice, all six episodes twice, once by myself, once with my wife, and part of the reason is I’ve known Marc Spears for almost 25 years. I met him when I was in college, and we’ve been friends ever since then. But I think even more than that, even if Marc weren’t a part of it, you just don’t see shows like this.

I mean, I think when we’re talking about reality-type Black television, it’s Black poverty, Black trauma, Black drama, and you just don’t–you don’t get those kinds of moments where you get to see successful Black people gather and the things that we talk about, which just could be just the normal conversation when it’s just three or four of us.

I want to read something that Marc Spears said in an interview, and he said, “You see lots of White people that have had success on television, thousands and thousands of white people who have had success. It’s time for people to see Black people that have had success and talk about it.” Why is this important for audiences to see?

[Pause due to technical difficulties]

MR. BREWER: Okay. Okay.


MS. WELTEROTH: Okay. Let me know. Can you guys hear me now?

MR. BREWER: I can, yes.

MS. WELTEROTH: Okay. All right. Thankfully, that hopefully resolved itself.

[Pause due to technical difficulties]

MR. BREWER: All right. We’re back, and it’s a perfect time. The technology won’t let us be great, but we’re going to persevere.

Dr. Jamila Lyiscott–and it’s funny that this is the next question–she said during her time, “It is our responsibility to speak boldly where our ancestors had to whisper.” As you reflect on the series, what does that statement mean to you?

MS. WELTEROTH: Wow. It resonates a lot. I think, especially in this moment, as I said, it’s not necessarily a climate that is conducive to speaking your truth, if your truth is not popular, especially in your political party or whatever affiliation you tend–you belong to. I think, you know, we’re living in times of great polarization, and in those, you know, times of great division, I think you tend–people as a–you know, communities, collectives tend to just kind of shy away from some of the harder conversations because they don’t want to get dragged into the mud, you know. And there is so much–there’s so much mud. There’s so much. There’s so many conversations that have divided our families, our churches, our community, and I think it’s an incredible thing that we are creating a platform that is like we are intentional about going there. We’re not shying away from these topics that are controversial or scary, but we’re doing so in a safe haven. Like we’re creating an environment like where everyone knows they’ll be listened to. They’ll be–you know, their opinion will be honored. It might be challenged, but it’s going to be challenged in a respectful way. And I think in that way, the show is so important in a time like this, because it’s modeling how to both articulate your truth in a–and also challenge somebody’s perspective, if you have a different perspective, how to challenge it in a respectful and productive way.

And I really am proud of that, because I do think that there are–you know, we’re living in times where it’s easy to feel silenced. It’s easy to feel shamed for having maybe an opinion that isn’t popular, and, you know, we’re living in cancel culture. So there’s a lot of fear around saying the wrong thing or being associated with the wrong, you know, topic and what that can do to your career. And we just said, listen, like we’re–we know that that’s the context that this show exists in out in the world and the internet, but that’s not–that’s not what this environment is like here.

And I think everybody really–I was excited to see that everyone really let their guards down. I think the wine helps. It was really–there was really great wine. I can tell you, I came into this show not at all a wine drinker. I’m a new mom. I get really tired when I sip wine, but I got to give it up to the chef. He introduced me some to some great Black-owned wines that had us really feeling warmed up, and it really opened everyone up to kind of just be themselves. And it was–it resulted in some really beautiful and enlightening conversations.

MR. BREWER: Let’s talk more about Chef David Lawrence and being the curator of the meals and perfectly choosing these wines from Black wineries but then also his identity being British and Jamaican.


MR. BREWER: It just added a different kind of vibe and flavor, not to have a–not to make a pun but a different flavor to everything, and so what was the value of him, his meals, and just the conversations and the different perspectives he had being someone who wasn’t born in America?

MS. WELTEROTH: There was tremendous value in everyone’s perspective but specifically with a chef who, by the way, became a big brother to me. So did Marc. We kind of left there a little family. They call me their little sister, and I think it is important to have those intergenerational conversations. And David is–you know, Marc, you know, tries to tease David because he’s–you know, tends to be one of the older people at the table and maybe all of the episodes. I’m not sure. But I feel like there’s a real significant value in having an elder at the table, an elder Black man with an international perspective.

You know, I watched him really listen and learn, and I saw him grow over the course of these episodes. I saw him change some of his opinions that he had held originally. I saw him open up. This is also his first time doing television. So there was a lot of newness for him, and I think it was really important for everyone at the table and for all of the viewers at home as well to see that we are not a monolith. We come from all different parts of this world, and, you know, we are connected across the diaspora through certain aspects of our experience. But we are not all the same, and culturally, we’re not all the same. And, you know, I think you see that play out in the in some of these conversations.

And, you know, I thought it was really beautiful to see, you know, a chef who’s this very kind of–I always called him–I say he looks like Idris’s–Idris Elba but like, you know, from a–you know, from a distance, if you squint.

MR. BREWER: [Laughs]

MS. WELTEROTH: I’m like, are you–like maybe brother or whatever, but he’s very debonair. He’s very sophisticated, a we got this guy to do TikToks with some of the younger–like a TikTok star that came on. You know, we got him talking about opening up about his relationship with his father and his mother and his relationship with his son, which is a little complicated. He’s–his son is biracial, and he talked about what it was like navigating that.

He–we saw him talk with Brett, who is amazing, one of our younger kind of Gen Z–I don’t want to say kids, make myself sound like an old auntie, but we had some Gen Z representatives in the building. And they came with, I mean, no fear. They just talked from their perspective, and they were willing to challenge folks like Marc and David at the table, who they said, you know, historically, they haven’t had the best–you know, they’ve had kind of a tenuous relationship with people–with Black men of that generation. And he said, specifically, you know, I think, you know, you guys have had it so hard as Black men coming up in your respective industries, wherever that was, whether it’s London or San Francisco or New York or wherever, Louisiana. You have a chip on your shoulder, and you are operating with a sense of identity politics that is oppressive to, you know, young people who just want to be free and who want to sparkle, essentially. I mean, he was wearing this like sparkly blazer, and he said–and he said to them, you know, basically, you guys don’t let me sparkle, and my sparkle makes you uncomfortable.

And they were able to kind of wrestle with this kind of long standing–there was like–it was like there was an elephant in the room between these two generations of Black men that they were actually able to address productively. And then by the end, there was this real beautiful breakthrough that–and I really hope that those types–those moments inspire similar conversations and similar breakthroughs with people at home, with, you know their fathers or their nephews or their sons like, you know, mothers to daughters. Like I really hope this is an opportunity for people to be inspired to come together and to bridge some of these divides.

MR. BREWER: Let’s talk about parenting, and that was a really strong theme that continues to resonate with me. I have two fairly young boys. You’re a new mom. There’s a lot–there was a lot of conversation around parenting and masculinity, and a lot of the men opened up about the kind of fathers they want to be. From your perspective as a mom, what was it like to hear those conversations and to learn how some men essentially are trying to be better or at least different than their fathers?

MS. WELTEROTH: It was really beautiful as a woman to be able to listen in on Black men having a very vulnerable dialogue about fatherhood and about, you know, trying to figure out how to be a father when they didn’t have that perfect father model in their own lives. And they admitted to mistakes that they’ve made, and they–some folks opened up about, you know, what they would have done differently. And then you have these younger men at the table who aren’t yet fathers that are able to absorb that wisdom, and I imagine they will apply it and be, you know, better fathers and–or just different fathers as a result. And I thought that was really beautiful.

I think usually in the parenting conversation, moms dominate that conversation, and that wasn’t the case at this table. We really heard from Black men about kind of the struggles of being vulnerable enough to show, you know, to have empathy and compassion and gentleness in terms of their parenting.

And for those who weren’t able to access that, you know, in those pivotal years, there was an acknowledgement of that, and I really hope that it led to some–you know, again, to some breakthrough conversations with people in their own lives. And I hope the same for the viewers who are watching. I really think it’s going to trigger some important conversations that need to be had that, frankly, don’t happen enough in most families but particularly in Black families.

MR. BREWER: Elaine, you’ve talked about maternal mortality crisis among Black women. Just from your experience, how deep is the crisis, and what are some of the solutions to helping to solve this problem.

MS. WELTEROTH: Thanks for asking me about that. I mean, the problem is very real, and I think the–you know, it’s a very complex issue that has–you know, there’s multiple layers to this issue. I think the way to solve it, first of all, is to bring awareness to it. I think it’s something that a lot of people are not aware of, even within our community and especially those outside of our community. I think most people are shocked to learn that in the richest country in the world, even today in 2023, that we have a maternal mortality crisis that is soaring.

I mean, the rates of deaths of maternal mortality deaths are soaring, and they’re soaring especially within our community. Black women in America are three to four times more likely to die during or after childbirth in the richest country in the world. With all of the technology at our disposal, we’re not able to save the lives of Black moms. And it’s a very–it’s a very sort of traumatizing statistic to learn about as a Black woman.

And I learned about it when–I really–I feel like I heard these stats, but I felt like they were out there, and I didn’t really want to focus on them until they were inescapable when I became pregnant. And I recognized that it was important for me to really understand what the solutions look like and how we can become advocates for those solutions.

And so, you know, the issue is complex, and so is the solution–so are the solutions. They’re multi-pronged. They’re–you know, we have to get more awareness out about this issue. We have to work to change legislation, which is already in the works.

I’ve been doing a lot of work around advocacy for the Momnibus Act, which is a set of bills that are going to help prevent more deaths of Black women in this country when they’re giving birth, and I encourage anybody who’s listening to this, who is curious about this to really learn more and to write letters to your lawmakers, because we have to get this passed. It’s literally–you know, we all have a mom. That’s the thing. This is an issue that for too long has been living in the shadows when it should be front and center and a priority for all of us, because we–none of us would be here without our mother. And so what are we going to do to protect the Black mothers and all mothers in this country when they’re giving the greatest sacrifice, which is bringing life into this world? So we have to change the laws to protect us.

We have to work with hospitals and insurance companies to change some of these policies. I won’t get into the details here, but there’s so much work to do on that end.

And then, you know, most importantly, I would say is raising awareness about doulas and midwives and how incorporating doulas and midwives can save lives. I mean, 70 percent of these deaths are preventable with midwives and doulas integrated into prenatal care and postpartum care and who are involved–for me, I did a home birth, and I had a doula and a midwife there with me to help me deliver my baby. And so I think raising awareness about your choices, you know.

So there’s more. I could say more, but I will stop here. As you can tell, it’s a very passionate topic for me and one that I feel like we all have a responsibility to raise awareness about and to keep fighting for us. So, yeah, thank you for bringing it up.

We didn’t get into it for “The Conversations Project,” but hopefully season two, we will–if we get a season two, I’m going to bring it to the table.

MR. BREWER: Oh, there absolutely needs to be a season two.

You went really deep on your biracial identity, and I really enjoyed the interaction with Ally Love, the fitness instructor, and the White dad club. And I guess I hadn’t thought about it in that way, that that could be a thing that there aren’t maybe many in society where your dad is white, your mom is Black. Just what’s–having a white dad and kind of how he has navigated that in your relationship to your dad, how has that kind of informed your biracial identity, and why were you–why was that something that was on your heart to just go so deep and to be so vulnerable about all aspects of being biracial?

MS. WELTEROTH: Well, I don’t really think of biraciality as an identity. I think that–you know, I’m very clear that I’m a Black woman, and in this country, you know, race is a construct, right? But we can’t–we have to acknowledge what that means. And, you know, I moved through the world as a Black woman. I am seen and treated as a Black woman, and Ally is very clear on that as well.

But in terms of, you know, this is a perfect example of how on the show, we make room for really nuanced conversation about all the different kind of complexities within Blackness. And I think that sometimes Blackness can get boiled down to just really basic Black or White and Black can look only like this. There’s a–there’s a list of things that make you Black. There’s the certain music that you listen to. There’s, you know, certain, you know, whatever, sports that you play, and you’re sort of confined to this box. But the reality is that Blackness is so multifaceted, and the spectrum is so wide in more ways than one, beyond skin color and hair texture.

So to get into some of that nuance and to be able to talk about and unpack what it means to be biracial and then even more nuanced to talk about what it means to be biracial with a Black–as a woman with a Black mother and a Black father versus having a White mother and a Black father. So it’s–to me, I’ve always felt there’s a distinct difference.

I haven’t always felt that there was room to talk about this publicly for fear of, you know, being misinterpreted, misunderstood and there are so many sensitivities when you talk about, you know, being biracial. There’s sort of this–you know, this kind of old, outdated, I hope, concept that like if you even acknowledge that you’re biracial, you’re somehow denying your Blackness, which is not at all where any of us were coming from on the show. And it felt good to have that be recognized while also recognizing that, you know, we understand that we come to these conversations with a level of White privilege, even in our Blackness and light skin privilege. And at the same time, we understand that we are Black, first and foremost, and we’re so clear on that, especially as Black women who are raised by Black mothers. We had this model of what it means to move through the world as a Black woman, literally modeled for us every single day.

And I think that you have sort of a different path to identifying what it means to–what type of Black woman you want to be and how to walk through the world and how to navigate certain things when your model of womanhood, the direct, you know, the most impactful influence is not the same race as you. So this is not about one being better or worse, superior or inferior. It’s just talking about kind of the nuanced differences and also, therefore, the kind of the connection point that you have when you find that someone has that same difference.

You know, when I found, I was like, “Oh, Ally, your dad is White and your mom is Black.” I knew we had something. I felt like we were here, you know, and we were able to connect on that level. And–but I even talked to Ally, you know, after the–after, and she sort of said–I said, “Ally, how come you never talk about the fact that you’re, you know, mixed race?” And she’s like, “Because I’m Black, and that’s what I lead with. And it just doesn’t seem relevant.” But we also kind of unpacked that it also doesn’t seem like it’s necessarily something that’s a welcomed conversation in our culture, right?

So I loved that she was willing to kind of open up and go into that vulnerable space and know that she would be safe and sort of met with understanding from the whole table.

MR. BREWER: That’s fantastic, and I think that’s what made me watch it twice, the range of the Black experience, and the great thing was I watched it the first time, and the second time we watched it with my wife, I learned something new. Like there were things that I missed, pearls, nuggets.

MS. WELTEROTH: Would you–I would love to hear just like some of the things that stood out to you that you either–

MR. BREWER: Oh, I mean, I think of–I think Roxanne Shanté was just a powerhouse. She was hilarious, but her perspective on protecting, why Black mothers protected a certain generation of Black sons was something that I hadn’t thought about. Same episode, Roy Wood Jr. was just fantastic and just talking about–talking about just being masculine and what that means and kind of having like an old-school Black father.

But what I wanted, I wanted a little more of the conflict when it was like, you know, old school and new school, just to kind of see how all of that was resolved, but it was–I mean, it was just like–it was fantastic and having just transgender conversations and all of that. It was just things that, for whatever reason, sometimes we make that taboo in the Black community and just talking about it and just having an out in the open, and having this host, the three of you, just so willing to quarterback the thing and making it a safe space for everyone to feel welcome. It was a really spectacular show.

MS. WELTEROTH: Oh, that means so much to hear. Thank you so much for saying that. I hope we can do more of these gatherings in real life to have people come see it and talk about it after, because it’s really–it’s meant to be a conversation starter, you know, and I want to be a fly on the wall on all these conversations that are, you know, spurring out of watching the show.

I do–I’m glad you brought up the transgender topic because I think that was one of the most powerful conversations at the table was when we had Leyna Bloom, and she looked at the whole room and she said, “How many transgender people have any of you ever invited to your home?” And it was–there was silence across the room, and I think everyone really contemplated that question and why we aren’t as welcoming or maybe why we don’t have as much access to the trans folks in our community. And we–she was such an incredible voice to lead that conversation, and I watched everyone sort of just take a step back and just listen without feeling the need to challenge. And I think that’s a rare thing in this moment.

I do hear you on–you know, you wanted some more, like you wanted some more conflict, you wanted more debate, and I hear you. We had some of that, but I felt like this was a moment where I was so grateful that there was just nothing but unity. There was nothing but love and an eagerness to understand each other better. That feels like something we need more of in this world. There’s enough arguing on the internet. There are enough trolls out there.

But I do hear you. I think that, you know, apart from the transgender conversation and the moment where she really got everyone to think about like how can we reach out and be better allies to transgender folks in our community, that the moment with Brett, where he really challenged the older men, Black men at the table about how they tend to talk to and about younger Black men and how they need to be more cognizant of its impact on them and how it kind of threatens to keep them small.

And I really–I–as a woman, I sat back, and I thought, “Ooh, this is–this is heating up. This is really heating up.” And I gave a lot of credit to Marc and David for not getting too defensive to where they couldn’t take it in, they couldn’t absorb the wisdom that was really coming from the youngest person in the room. And I think a lot of times in our culture–you know this–you know, a certain generation of Black parenting, that that style of parenting is like, you know, you’re meant to be seen but not heard, right?

MR. BREWER: Mm-hmm.

MS. WELTEROTH: You share–you know, you speak when spoken to, but this generation of young people are–they’re different, you know. So I even noticed as a millennial. I have a level of deference to my elders that even folks who are, you know, five to eight years younger than me, they don’t really have the same deference, but, you know, I also feel more bound by respectability politics, you know, than they do. I feel–I felt like I could learn how to be a little bit more vocal and a little freer to speak my mind after I was listening to this debate between these two generations.

So we did get some of it, and I do think also like when we had some–we had someone, and I’m forgetting who it was, but they were–we were talking about Black Lives Matter and sort of it going from this movement to becoming a nonprofit that kind of now is embroiled in a lot of conflict.

MR. BREWER: Elaine, we’re out of time now, unfortunately.

MS. WELTEROTH: Oh, okay. See? See, this–

MR. BREWER: So we’ll just leave it–we’ll–

MS. WELTEROTH: This is the–it just–it starts conversations that you just can’t stop.

MR. BREWER: No, I know. I know. This was fantastic. Unfortunately, we’re out of time. Elaine Welteroth, thank you so much for joining Washington Post Live.

MS. WELTEROTH: Thank you so much for taking the time to watch the series, and I’m so glad that you loved it. And I hope that we get a season two so we can give you more conflict and more debates. I’ll keep that in mind for next time.

MR. BREWER: Oh, that will be wonderful.

And thanks to all of you for watching. To find out what shows we have coming up next, please visit for more information.

I’m Jerry Brewer, and thank you for watching Washington Post Live.

[End recorded session]

About The Author


Hood Over Hollywood Mature (the beauty standards from the maturing woman-next-door).

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *