An Interview With Armstrong Williams on How to Fix Race Relations
He offers insights found in his new book and from his personal life.
Armstrong Williams grew up on his family farm in rural South Carolina and went on to become the second-largest minority broadcast TV owner in America. He has closely watched the racial tension in America and offers a path toward healing and atonement in his new book “What Black and White America Must Do Now: A Prescription to Move Beyond Race.” Williams, a TV host and Daily Signal columnist, spoke to Daily Signal Executive Editor Rob Bluey about his personal journey and solutions. A lightly edited transcript is below.
Rob Bluey: Armstrong, you’re the author of a new book, “What Black and White America Must Do Now: A Prescription to Move Beyond Race.” In the book, you share your own personal story. What was it like growing up in rural South Carolina? And how did you get to where you are today?
Armstrong Williams: I grew up during the time of Sen. Strom Thurmond. I grew up on a tobacco and swine farm, and we were somewhat isolated. It was just my parents, my seven brothers, and two sisters.
We had an 150-acre spread—swine, tobacco, cattle, horses, chickens. And it’s where I learned my family values, work ethic, discipline, sacrifice, commitment, being a good neighbor, and also working by the sweat of your brow.
We’ve definitely not grew up poor. We always had food on the table, clothes on our back. We always had to go to church on Sunday, and we always had similar to what the Jewish people call Shabbat. We always had a family dinner where everybody had to gather and be at the table. And so, my parents were very informed about what was going on with each of their children.
So, I sort of grew up in an incubator because I attended a school that was open to everyone. It was a public school, it was open to all races. And so, I just learned about life and about farming and about what it takes to grow something in life, and learned about struggle.
Because one thing you learn on a farm, it’s how the seasons change. And every season brings something different. And my parents always told us that we have to have very different crops because sometimes they don’t do all well because you don’t always get the amount of rain that you wanted. Sometimes the sun can scorch the earth.
So, we always realized how we had to plant, and then we have the planting and the harvest season. We always needed something to harvest. So my parents grew up as my heroes.
And racism wasn’t a part of my growth equation. That’s the most interesting thing, Rob. It’s not a part of my growth equation.
I tell people … that I’ve never, even at this point in my life, I’ve never experienced racism. I’ve never been impacted by it, but I’ve heard the stories from my brothers. Rare, rare, but I’ve heard them. But as you get older and you move into the big cities, you certainly hear about it.
And you hear different stories, and you hear people believe that this kind of -ism has some kind of control of them. And there are certain minorities who believe in this country that privilege does not apply to them, that somehow it doesn’t apply to everybody but them.
And somehow, now there’s this group purge to shift that people buy. And so I remember as a kid, I read Ayn Rand, “The Fountainhead,” where she talks about the herd mentality.
When you get people to believe that they’re the same in their life, and to get them to the same thought process and everything, they lose their individuality, they lose their identity, and you can begin to control them.
And my father always celebrated our freedom and our identity. There was no such thing as a black and a white. Even though we had our names in the household, my father celebrated our individuality.
He always said, “All of you don’t have to be Republicans or have to be Democrat, you celebrate what you value.” And so the individual, the rugged individualism is something that was very strong in our family household.
Bluey: Armstrong, I know that some people are quite surprised by the lessons that you learned growing up. And I’ll say, if there was ever a time for a book like this, it certainly is now because Americans really seem unsure of how to move forward. So I wanted to ask you, what are some of the solutions that you put forward? What are the recommendations you have that you can share?
Williams: It’s not our color or behavior that define who we are. At the core of who we are is God, the essence of existence. And sometimes we lose sight of that.
It is actually in the face of adversity that defines who we are choosing to be in this short thing we call life. And it is our personal actions through those challenges and struggles that define who we freely choose to be and what we choose to become that allow us to step into history as a hero, or instantly fade away into the past, with the passage of death.
The thing that people have to realize is that we are individuals … we’re more defined by how we handle our struggles in life, how we handle the disappointments in life, how we handle the setbacks. It’s how we handle those things in the struggle, in adversity, in the storm. It determines our character, determines our courage, and it determines our conviction.
And listen, let me not ignore the fact that there are individuals in their heart who can, with the power that they have, the position, who can harm people, that they don’t like them because they’re fat, or because of their race, or because of the way they are dressed.
And you see what’s happened recently with individuals who happen to be black who have been singled out for these isolated situations, and law enforcement out of control, and being killed.
I know people can easily bring that on race because they need to tell you it doesn’t appear that they’re doing anything else for black people. But if you look at the larger background, if you look at the larger picture, you’ll realize that many people are abused by a certain section of law enforcement.
And it’s unfortunate that they have all this training and they have the ability to use the taser and everything else. And yet, sometimes they choose to kill people in an inhumane way. And just because everything that happens to one is not about race. It’s just not about that.
So the other thing that I’ve learned growing up with my parents is that if law enforcement always stop you, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the right or the wrong, we always show deference and respect to that person because that person’s empowered. Especially given the fact that that person has a gun.
And it is true. Whenever I’ve ever been stopped by law enforcement, I always show deference. I always show respect. I never make an argument.
The other thing that we have to do is that people have to realize … that with the government and the Great Society and programs, and even so, to a certain extent, in the stimulus package, you can’t not take away the dignity for people to do for themselves. They’ll grow resentment, they will not appreciate it.
Too often we try to do for people what they do for themselves. We should never take away a person’s dignity, their self-discipline, their self-worth, their self-respect. The Bible tells us that we should work by the sweat of our brow. So we’ve got to get back to work ethic.
And the other thing that we have to make people realize … today, your race, your color, does not determine your destiny. It’s very dangerous for parents to tell their kids, especially black kids, “Well, you’re not going to be able to become that. You’re not going to be able to do that because of the hue of your skin.”
Barack Obama. I’ll never forget when he was running for president. There were many people in the community [who] thought it was a joke. They didn’t think he had a chance of winning the White House, but Obama broke incredible barriers to show how far America has come. Because listen, President Obama would not have been elected president had it not been for a crossover vote.
So there’s simple things that we can do.
And look, racism is a man-made construct. It’s not even real. It’s used to exploit, to divide, to separate, to make people feel that they’re less than. People must get back to the individuality, Rob.
Bluey: That’s a great point, Armstrong. You referenced some of the recent unrest. We’re seeing it now happening in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the shooting of Jacob Blake. We also saw it in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
You talk in the book about how we can move from where we are today to a healing and atonement. And I’m wondering, looking at these situations where so many of our cities are grappling with the rioting and looting, do you think it’s possible? And how do we get to healing and atonement?
Williams: Look. It’s law and order. This is most people. I don’t care what their race or their background, there’s guaranteed people that … don’t respect law and order, don’t respect law enforcement and what they have to do.
No matter how often law enforcement get it wrong, it’s outrageous to make people believe that mayors of these citizens tell law enforcement to stand down while these kids, some of them out of control, have no respect for American values, and businesses, and work, they just burn these places down.
It’s just unconscionable, Rob. You’ve got to have respect for law enforcement. And a lot of this stuff is just so misguided. They don’t even understand. Even with these statues they’ve been taking down, they have no idea what the statues represent, what they mean. All they want to do is be [able to say] that they took a picture at the Black Lives Matter event. They have on the Black Lives Matter T-shirt.
So, it’s just the social media. Everybody wants to be liked. Everybody wants to belong to something. But they have no idea what these organizations represent. They’ve never taken the time to go to the website, understand what they advocate and what they believe in. So we have got to get back to law and order.
Bluey: I’m glad you brought that up because I wanted to ask what you make of Black Lives Matter. It does seem that a lot of everyday Americans, even some American corporations that have made sizable donations, don’t understand the difference between the organization, which has Marxist and anti-family goals, versus the slogan.
So what’s your advice for people who want to show sympathy but not necessarily support the underlying organization and the goals that would undo the foundation of what we know as America?
Williams: The beginning of understanding, Rob, is a true repentance and turning toward unity and the harmony the black communities began first.
I believe that the most important social institution man has known, I cannot repeat this enough, is individual. Because I have pondered and explored the root causes of these perceptions and these behaviors with my own people, who are not necessarily black, but they just happen to be white.
And while individuals can first identify with black oppression and still confront their own acquiescence healthy, and can struggle through certain ways we think, we have to acknowledge our own confirmation of prejudice. We have to do that. We have to be intentional.
Which means white Americans, sometimes, some of them, you set your mind to this as your stated course. You seek it out. … Better relationships do not just happen. They develop and only happen when it’s purposeful.
It sounds simple, but it’s not easy. You will be disappointed, I promise you, especially if you set up with many of these expectations because … you’ve got to keep an open mind.
Somewhere in your interactions with brothers and sisters, someone will tell you or push you back to your confirmation prejudice. You’ve got to resist. You’ve got to see us as people.
You started as I started, with this individuality, from your mother’s womb. Each one with their own motivation, their own purpose, and set and composed of the sum of our environment and experience.
And yet, sometimes we do judge people by their color, by the way they dress, or where they live. And we have to do better. We have to get away from this. …
I implore people to keep walking, submit to the process, to the journey, walk until we walk together as one. And understanding that we will never be the same, and we can celebrate that, but we can walk as one.
We’ve got to get back and put an end to this tribalism, Rob. You’ve got to set your mind to this, collectively think that we’re starting to change. …
While tribalism is a comfortable way of organizing ourselves because it sort of promotes and reinforces shared values based on shared experiences, there has to be a function within tribes that connects us to the border tribe, which is our cities, our states, and our nation. Because tribalism, Rob, it’s not bad per se, but when it fails to connect to the broader society in a healthy way, it can become insular and self-defeating.
And tribes have fought for centuries for power. And we must eliminate tribal culture and just become one productive, progressive, peaceful culture that the rest of the world can observe and follow.
Bluey: Dr. Ben Carson wrote the foreword to your book. He is a great role model in many respects. Can you speak about his influence on your own life and some of the things that he’s doing now that really speak to the moment that we’re in?
Williams: I’ve known Dr. Carson for about 28 years now. I was his business manager for 20 years, and I was a part of his campaign. And so Dr. Carson is a moral man, he’s a humble man.
I was honored when he was honored to write the foreword to my book because he understands the importance of these issues.
So I respect what Dr. Carson’s doing, particularly after serving in such a stellar way as the world-renowned pediatric surgeon, he decided to serve President Trump as secretary of housing and urban development.
Bluey: Armstrong, I know that in today’s world, the media landscape, we tend to, it seems, go to our own bubbles and not necessarily want to have some of these conversations. Your TV show stands out as the exact opposite of that. You don’t shy away from controversial or provocative topics, and you welcome a diversity of voices to your show.
How do you maintain that mix, and why is it so important to make sure that you have those different voices represented in part of the conversation?
Williams: Well, listen, it’s the only way we learn. It’s the only way we grow is that we’ve got to allow others to come in. Because if everybody agreed somebody is not necessary, I’m not afraid of what you may call … somebody who founded Black Lives Matter; or someone who represents the family, the children, who law enforcement killed way too soon.
I’m not afraid to sit and talk with a Kamala Harris or an Elizabeth Warren because I learned that I could talk to them with civility. I can talk to them with respect.
Because at the end of the day, while we may not agree on the direction of this nation and what is best for America, at the end of the day, we’re all Americans. We can be civil, we can be respectful, and we can always show honor. …
We also let our audience know that we’re not here to push an agenda. You’re going to have every perspective on, so you can come to the determination of what you believe and who you are.
And I’m not going to censor people from coming onto my network because then I am abusing the role that I have as a broadcast owner as a whole. So it’s important that we celebrate the diversity of voices. And I must tell you, the audience around this country loves it.
Bluey: You own several broadcast TV stations all around this great country. In fact, you’re the second-largest minority broadcast TV owner in America. So many lives have been upended because of COVID-19, and people find themselves in a different position than they may have just six months ago. What does it take to succeed in this great country? And what lesson would you like to leave our listeners with today, based on your own experience and success?
Williams: Listen, once you realize that all that we have, it doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the good Lord—
There have been many blessings in my life. I can’t say that I’d do anything more special than the next person. Not because I’ve been inspired for my service, God has showed mercy and grace upon my life.
And it doesn’t matter what I’ve accomplished or what I may have accumulated, I’m always the same. I treat people the way I want to be treated. It doesn’t matter if it’s a homeless person standing outside of Union Station or the president of the United States.
A lot of people are in pain today. To whom much is given, much is expected. I always go out of my way to help and empower those who need, and they have no idea that it’s me doing it. …
I think the real judge of you is what you give back, and you help those for the least among us. And that doesn’t always mean money. And there’s so many people in pain who are suffering today. And just giving your time, which is a valuable asset, mentoring young men who’ve never had fathers, mentoring young women who have never had fathers, and giving people opportunity.
So, just realize, none of this belongs to us. It’s all on loan. And we’re going to leave it behind. It’s what we do for the lord that would matter when this life is over.
Bluey: That’s great advice. Thank you for spending time with The Daily Signal. Again, the book is called “What Black and White America Must Do Now: A Prescription to Move Beyond Race.” We thank you for all that you do and all you give back to others, including those of us at The Heritage Foundation and The Daily Signal.
Williams: Well, thank you. I appreciate people going out to buy the book. Rob, much respect. Thank you so much for having me.