By Leah Fessler
Chief Founding Member Amani Duncan, SVP of Music at MTV, Viacom, has led across industries, from music recording to manufacturing. Amani recently launched her new podcast, No Need To Ask. Created to share professional insights informed by her personal experience as a premiere exec, Black woman, and mentor, Amani’s podcast is incredibly unique and powerful.
With her permission and encouragement, we share an abridged excerpt from a Special Edition episode of “No Need To Ask” below. Please download, subscribe, and review Amani’s podcast on Apple iTunes if you enjoy this excerpt — it makes a big difference in the podcast’s success.
Children are not born racist. I know this to be true because I lived it. I was born in Los Angeles, California in the year 1970. My parents were fantastic, conscious, educated, worldly, and both were descendants of slaves and sharecroppers. When my sister and I were quite young, my father got a job at Aramco, which was located in South Pasadena, California. We relocated to that area, and my dad started working at the company as an electrical engineer. South Pasadena is a lovely, charming town, but when we moved there, we quickly found out that we were the only African American family.
My sister and I went to Lincoln elementary school, and we were the only children of color in the entire school. We made tons of friends. We had the best childhood, we didn't want for anything. It was just magical. And then we moved to Los Angeles proper.
My third grade teacher was an African American woman. Other than my mom, my grandma, and my cousins, I wasn't around a lot of African American kids in my formative years. So I was over the moon with Mrs. Wilson, I will never forget her. She was just glorious. Besides my mom, I thought she was the prettiest lady I ever saw. When my mother picked me up that afternoon from school, I was just elated. She proceeded to ask a bunch of questions as we drove home. I couldn't explain to her what my teacher looked like in the way that she wanted me to explain it. I told her she was tall, and I explained what she had on that day, and how she wore her hair.
That was the way I described people. And my mother kept pressing me. I finally pointed to my hand and I said, “She looks like me.” My mother told me this story many years later when I was older. And it just demonstrated that I didn't see people as a color. You were either a boy or a girl, or a man or a woman.
Then reality set in. As I started getting older, I learned very quickly that people do identify each other by a color, you're Black or white or brown. And it was so jarring to me. I had to quickly learn this because I was being bullied by kids of color and white kids.
As a professional myself who has been the first African American woman in almost all of the positions that I've held, I began to have this tremendous appreciation for what my father must have gone through. I have been called derogatory names at various companies I've worked for, which have allowed whispers behind my back. But I would always hear it. I kept looking straight when I would see people stare at me or look at me in a mean way, but I kept pushing on because I knew I needed to be there. I deserved the right to hold the positions that I held, and I wasn't going to be scared off.
But the past week has been really, really hard. I'm scared, not only for myself, but for every person of color. I live in an upper middle class neighborhood, and as I was driving down the street the other day, I passed a police car. My grip on my steering wheel got a lot tighter. I clenched my teeth and felt a knot in my stomach. What happened to Ahmaud Arbery and the countless others could happen to me.
When these incidents happen, [the white people around you] are not concerned about whether you're educated, or well off financially. All they see is the color of your skin. And therefore, we're all potential victims. I remember walking recently in my neighborhood and I saw a young African American boy on a bike, and as he passed me we greeted each other. I found myself saying maybe a little too strongly to be careful out here. To please be safe.
I also know this is not new. The only difference is that now it's being videotaped. What happened in Central Park has happened so many times before. What happened to George Floyd has happened so many times before. My heart is heavy, but I'm not going to be a victim. If you are white, we need your help. We need to band together in the name of humanity. I know it must be hard, but try to imagine if George Floyd was your son or your husband. I believe that all lives matter, but right now, Black lives are under siege. We need to band together in the name of humanity to make a change.
My brothers and sisters who are people of color, we have to use our voice in a nonviolent way. We have to get out and vote every election — local and national. I know it may seem daunting because you go out and vote and you try to make your voice heard, yet you feel like nothing's changing. But it will change if we stay united and use the power of our voices and our actions to bring about the change we seek.
Listen, subscribe to, and review Amani’s podcast, No Need to Ask on Apple podcasts.
Published on June 8, 2020