EXCLUSIVE: Charlamagne On Using Your ‘Black Privilege’ To Turn ‘No’ Into Your Next Opportunity
In honor of his new book, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, lets revisit how radio and TV personality, Charlamagne Tha God became a New York Times Best Selling author in this exclusive interview about his debut book, “Black Privilege”.Fans of Power 105.1’s popular morning show, “The Breakfast Club” will get to experience the play-by-play of Charlamagne Tha God’s radio career through his new book, “Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It.”
The Moncks, South Carolina native reflects back on his humble beginnings which included growing up in a trailer park, selling drugs and going to jail. An unpaid internship at a local radio station changed his career trajectory and Charlamagne has relentlessly honed his craft for the past nineteen years.
“Black Privilege…” is part self-help, part memoir with antidotes that include the history of slavery in South Carolina and his experiences with many of hip-hops biggest names like T.I., Young Jeezy, 2 Chainz and Pitbull at the onset of their careers.
Within it’s lengthy 320 pages, the book touches on so many things that it may seem to drag at certain points where Charlamagne is telling you frivolous details about his encounters with aliens and ghosts (yes, you read that right) as well as the types of pranks he used to pull in school. There are also several TMI (too much information) stories about the women he’s slept with…While those moments may make you want to put the book down, it’s also reassuring to know that “Uncle Charla” is so transparent and feels so comfortable with his truth that he’s willing to bare his soul in such a way that it’s hard to imagine what didn’t make the cut.
What makes “Black Privilege” worth reading is that Charlamagne’s journey explicitly articulates and reiterates that there are no overnight successes. To sustain the type of career he now has on the radio with “The Breakfast Club” as well as the host of the MTV series, “Uncommon Sense”, he couldn’t become a victim of his circumstances or make excuses in the midst of his most humbling experiences which include being fired four times, being unemployed for a year and having to move back to his parents home with his wife and kids.
In an exclusive interview with Zon D’Amour, the multihyphenate entertainer gets candid about the situations that have made him certain of the fact that “Black Privilege” exists and is readily available for those who are interested in walking in their purpose and living their best lives.
(Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.)
Zon D’Amour: Many African Americans or people of color are familiar with the term “white privilege” which denotes the societal advantages that are ascribed to Caucasians based on the color of their skin. To suggest that African Americans have a similar birthright will seem like a foreign concept to many people. Can you explain what inspired the title “Black Privilege”?
Charlamagne Tha God: It’s this ideology that I have where I feel like it’s a privilege to be black. When you talk about “white privilege”, you’re talking about something systemic.
We have a privilege pre-ordained by God that nothing and no one can stop. That’s why I use the example of the “Lion King” in the book. When Simba got with Timon and Pumbaa, Timon and Pumbaa were afraid until they realized that Simba didn’t even “know” he was a lion.
So we have to remind ourselves that we are a great people and we come from a great lineage. How can we say that we were Kings and Queens during ancient civilization but then turn around and say, ‘we don’t have privilege.’ Who said that? What is that based on? Is that based on the white man’s definition of privilege and what this system is showing us? Yes, of course. In this system called America, white privilege reigns supreme but to me, I have to embrace what I am and how special we are as a people. I have to know that God put me here for a real reason and He blessed me with divine privilege and there’s a divine system that I can tap into that can help me overcome any obstacle that stands in my way.
ZD: For those people who have been affected by systemic racism and have been through the criminal justice system, grew up in poverty and/or were denied access to a quality education and in turn feel somewhat defeated, what are some of the initial steps to tapping into your black privilege to do the things with your life that you’re passionate about?
CTG: You have to make the same choice that I made when I was going through all of that and knowledge itself is very important. I remember reading a book called, “From Niggas To Gods, Part One” by Andre Akil; the book was so easy to read, it was in capital letters with exclamation marks because Akil was screaming at us. It was about getting out of the mindset that this system has put you in.
This mindset that makes you feel like your circumstances are permanent and wherever you’re born is where you’re going to end up. You have to realize who you are. Similar to the concept of “Black Privilege”; if you say that you’re a king, queen, god or goddess and you recognize that you’re from ancestral greatness, you have to start living up to that. It’s really just that simple.
In spite of everything that this system has thrown at us, we still have to live at the end of the day. We still have to find purpose and find ways to prosper and make a profit so you have to find ways to stand on your own two feet and fulfill your potential as a black man or black woman on this planet no matter how marginalized or oppressed you may be.
I like to see people creating their own opportunities and when I see them creating their own opportunities, I like to put them in a position to elevate those opportunities.
Those of us that get to a certain level, we have to start giving back to our communities, giving information it’s something that you have to do. It’s either realize that you’re a great individual by nature and move towards that or just accept the white man telling you: ‘you’re never going to prosper, this world isn’t meant for you to prosper, we have privilege, you don’t, that’s it.’ No! That’s not the mindset to have but that’s unfortunately how many [black people] feel but we have to snap out of it.
If you look at this government and this administration, this is the same thing that we’ve been facing for centuries and they’re not here to help us. In this moment in time you have to help yourself and we have to help each other.
ZD: In the beginning of your book you mention that you’re the “Prince of Pissing People Off” then Principal 5 basically says don’t piss people off and “…treat people with respect where you are, or you might pay for it later.” Can you give insight into your no-holds-barred way of telling people how you feel?
CTG: You can be very honest and direct with people, respectfully. I never do anything maliciously; I simply give my honest opinion. What I was referring to in terms of pissing people off were the people you come across everyday. I pride myself on being the nicest person in the room. My grandmother always told me, ‘Manners will take you where money won’t.’ When I walk into a room, I say “hello” to everyone I don’t care who the person is or what they do, it’s simply being respectful. I treat everyone from the custodian to the CEO with the same amount of respect.
Growing up I watched examples of how not to treat people. In the book I talk about working for Wendy Williams and her husband Kevin [Hunter]. I knew when I got into certain positions that I wasn’t going to talk to people the way that they did. My mindset is, if you want to see the true character of a person watch how they treat those who can’t do anything for them.
Now when I’m talking to an artist, I’m not being malicious when I tell them their music is wack. These are artists with mad money and fame so why should they care about my critique?
Look in the mirror and say, ‘this is who I am, this is what I am and this is how I’m going to be’ and start demanding more from yourself.
I was specifically referring to the regular everyday people that you come across on your come up. You never know if that intern that you [disrespected] might end up being the CEO of the company one day, you honestly never know who’s who. It’s easy to treat the stars and the executives with respect but how do you treat the security guards or the waiter that serves your food? You may have to cross that bridge later.
If you don’t have malice in your heart and you’re truly being honest, I don’t think you burn any bridges like that, you can only strengthen them. I think about everyone in my life that was harsh with me or who gave me tough love and told me things that I didn’t want to hear in that moment; fortunately it ended up being really good for me and I have nothing but respect for them today and those are the people I return to when I need that real honest advice.
ZD: Beyond being a walking example of black privilege, what are you doing to pave the way for more men from your neighborhood of Moncks Corner, South Carolina to follow in your footsteps?
CTG: I have a non-profit organization called Third Eye Awareness and we’ve done everything from bookbag drives to turkey give a ways for Thanksgiving. I sponsor several basketball and football teams throughout my community. I was recently the keynote speaker at the C3 Conference hosted by Columbia Career Connect.
I’m paying it forward by sharing information that I’ve learned from all of the experiences I’ve had. What kind of person would I be if I don’t share that back with my people? I have my own day in Columbia, South Carolina (April 8th). It wasn’t given to me solely because of my TV or radio endeavors, it was because of the philanthropy that I do in the state. And there’s a lot more that I plan to do. I want to open a youth center or some type of big brother community mentorship program. As a radio personality, I’m a public servant, we all should be public servants in some way shape or form. I feel like my soul purpose is to be of service to others.
“Black Privilege” is something spiritual because we as black people tap into a divine system that a lot of other cultures and races can’t tap into and that system allows us to prosper in spite of everything that’s been thrown our way from slavery to segregation to mass incarceration.
ZD: To many people starting out in the industry or for those who are at a transitional point in their career, getting the attention of someone you admire and building relationships with them can seem daunting. How should people go about getting mentorships and building relationships in an authentic way? Should they just focus on their careers and getting to a point where their work gets them noticed?
CTG: I definitely think it happens naturally. Wendy Williams was always someone that was a mentor to me from afar. When she was doing radio in New York, our stations were owned by the same company, Inner City Broadcasting. She was syndicated on WBLS Hot 103.9 in Columbia, South Carolina. The first time I met her, she was down there recording her show and I walked in the studio and I started talking to her, ‘Hey, hello, you’re a big inspiration to me.’ I was trying to hand her mixtapes and get her to listen to a parody song, I was being real pushy. I know that for a fact, [because] she was in the middle of a show and I’m trying to get the board operator to play this song for her and Wendy told me straight up, ‘Get the fuck outta here, I’m trying to do my show, take that mixtape shit to my husband.’
I didn’t get discouraged or upset; I took that mixtape shit to her husband and that’s how that relationship initially started. I was putting my interviews online, her producers heard them and Wendy started shouting me out. After I got on her radar, that’s when the respect for what I do started to grow from her.
Her husband [Kevin Hunter] and I were building and they invited me to a party where Wendy asked me to come on her show the next day. She was asking me about the different interviews that I had done and people I had met. I was there for all of 25 minutes and that night they offered me a job on her radio show. Kevin’s exact words were, ‘I can’t pay you but I can give you a place to stay.’ And I took the opportunity.
With Steve Harvey, I first met him when I was working with Wendy at WBLS. He was someone that I would see in passing in the hallway, we would say ‘watsup’, he would say little things to me here and there but it wasn’t a real relationship. Overtime, he had been watching what I was doing on the radio, he does radio as well and he chose to acknowledge “The Breakfast Club”. I would always bigup Steve as being an inspiration and a mentor from a far.
Every morning, I saw him riding his bike trying to get a certain number of miles to raise money for his mentorship program. I was doing my shift on the radio but I decided to call in. I donated some money to his program and said, ‘Steve, you’ve always been an inspiration, I want to donate my time if you need someone to talk to the kids, I’m there.’ And he held me to it. By me paying it forward so to speak because I saw how hard he was working for the kids, I ended up at his ranch one weekend and we’ve had a great relationship ever since. I was recently in Chicago as a guest on his TV show.
I love Steve and it hurt my heart when I saw everyone going in on him calling him a ‘coon’ and an ‘Uncle Tom’ for meeting with Donald Trump; it hurt my heart to see that because I know how much this man’s mentorship program does for young black fatherless kids, he has golf tournaments that he does every year to raise money for his charities. [Then there’s] The Neighborhood Awards, “Family Feud”, his radio show and his talk show—he’s employing so many black people. He doesn’t so much for us so to see people discredit him for meeting with Donald Trump…come on man!
Through out history we’ve had engagements and we’ve had resistance. We’ve had people who chose to engage the administrations that oppress and marginalize us and may not have our best interest; they chose to engage to try and get things done and we have people who chose to resist. Just because he’s one of those guys that chose to engage, we’re going to get mad at him? I’m just happy that I know what he sat down and talked to the Celebrity In Chief, Donald Trump, about; it’s not something I would do but he recently said to me, ‘If I have to take a hit in order for this to happen, I’m fine with it.’ I can’t wait until he announces what’s about to happen…
Long story short, in all situations when it comes to mentors, you have to take initiative simple as that. The people that I mentor now, they took the initiative but it’s because I saw them doing something that I acknowledged was dope, When I like what someone is doing, I have no problem reaching out, I’m not a selfish individual.