Radio Host Jamar McNeil Gets Candid About Racism

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Exactly one week after George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis, iHeartRadio personality Jamar McNeil stopped the music on Monday to get personal.

The co-host, with Marilyn Denis, of Toronto’s popular CHUM 104.5 morning show asked listeners to think about “those days when you woke up and didn’t feel threatened just walking out of your door, when you didn’t feel threatened walking on your own property, driving in your own car.

“That is a privilege you’ve had. I want you to entertain for a second that maybe you lived in a reality that a lot of people don’t live in.”

McNeil, who is of Jamaican descent, was born in Queens, New York and went on to enrol in African studies at the University of Maryland. His radio career includes stints at stations in Miami and Chicago.

McNeil said ever since taking the job at CHUM 104.5 in 2018 he has been asked – often told – about the relief he must feel living in open, tolerant Canada.

“I bite my tongue because since I’ve been here, I’ve experienced racism,” he admitted. “I know that would surprise a lot of people … It’s not a perfect place. It’s here, too.”

McNeil said as a black man whose face adorns billboards all over the city, he feels a responsibility to represent those who look like him.

“Even that person who you may think, ‘ah well he made it. He’s good.’ No, I’m not good. I’ve gone through it. I’m not good,” he said. “I lived through it. I’m not good. That’s what this is about, people. That’s what this is about.”

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One Friday night, during his university years, McNeil rolled up to a convenience store parking lot in his souped-up car with music blasting. Two police officers walked up and screamed at him to turn the music off. McNeil reached over to turn the music down.

“All of a sudden I feel a hand on my neck and I’m being pulled out of my own car,” he recalled. “I’m shocked. The seat belt is still on me. This guy is pulling me, by my neck, through my car window. I’m losing air, I’m losing breath, I’m coughing.”

McNeil pointed out that at the time – in 1998 – there were no camera phones. “There was nothing to record what happened to me,” he said.

“I could have died that night and there would have been no record and no footage to say what happened to me that night. ‘Another dude who had some kind of altercation with the cops.’ 

"I would not have been alive to tell you what I did not do wrong.”

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During his nearly 17-minute conversation with Denis (which you can listen to here), McNeil spoke about having to ask Denis if she thought he and his young son Kofi would be safe in Ontario cottage country.

Recognizing that many non-black people want to make a difference but don’t know how, McNeil offered some advice.

“What a lot of black people want is for you not to be silently non-racist but to be loudly anti-racist,” he said. “When you’re sitting at that dinner table … and that one person says something [racist] – because they’re not going to say it to me – when they say it to you, you let them know that that talk is not acceptable.”