Al Roker recalls racist on-air incident in new book: 'It taught me there are degrees' in how 'you react'

TODAY -- Pictured: (l-r) Al Roker on Friday January 3, 2019 -- (Photo by: Tyler Essary/NBC)
Al Roker talks new book, Black Lives Matter and John Lewis. (Tyler Essary/NBC)

Al Roker took a break from covering the latest tropical storm to release his 13th book on Tuesday, You Look So Much Better in Person: True Stories of Absurdity and Success. Roker’s new memoir, named after a comment he frequently gets greeting fans on Rockefeller Plaza, is a collection of essays that aims to put readers on the path of success. It’s a little self-help mixed with Roker’s firsthand — and often humorous — accounts of lessons he’s learned over his 40-plus year career.

“I had no idea which direction the book was going to go in,” the beloved Today show weather and feature anchor told Yahoo Entertainment over the phone on Monday. “I’m glad I did it. Look, I’m getting older! Who knows how much longer I’m going to remember this stuff?”

Roker was approached to write the book after speaking on a panel for the National Association of Black Journalists. In his memoir, Roker takes fans on a journey from how he got his start in college as a polyester-suit-wearing weather forecaster in Syracuse, N.Y., to landing his dream job at NBC. Roker explains he hopes people will “take away the power of yes.”

“I think things keep us from saying yes because we’re afraid we’re gonna fail. I get it, nobody wants to fail, but some of the greatest things that have happened in history happened because of failure. Nobody comes right out of the box succeeding, no great inventions were done on the first try,” Roker shares with Yahoo. “But also, I hope [readers find] the courage to say ‘no’ to the things that don’t spark your passion, that don’t give you some sense of satisfaction.”

The book is filled with inspirational and funny anecdotes — dubbed “Al-truisms” — but behind the upbeat tone are some serious takeaways. In one instance, Roker recalled a colleague made a shocking, racist comment on-air during his time at WKYC in Cleveland. Doug Adair, one of the news anchors, told Roker midbroadcast, “One of your people attacked me,” referring to a Black homeless man.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Roker writes. “What Doug said was incredibly wrong and obviously racist, and I knew I had to respond to it. … I looked at him and said matter-of-factly: ‘Doug, why would a weatherman attack you?’”

Roker tells Yahoo the incident taught him a valuable lesson: that dealing with racism or injustice can be handled in different ways. With Doug, he chose to defend himself with humor.

“It was one of those things — it happened, there’s no point in dwelling on it and I kept moving,” he explains. “Listen, there are people who have suffered far greater insults, slights and biases that it’s hard for them to move on because it affected their careers. Doug didn’t affect my career, so I was able to keep moving. But there are others that have had to suffer far greater things. It taught me there are degrees in ways in which you react. I think I reacted in the way it needed to be.”

Roker adds that the shocking comment is nothing like what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, whose deaths at the hands of police have sparked nationwide protests.

“The country has reacted since George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in completely different ways — and needed to. In a way, the pandemic helped us get there because we didn’t have the distraction of work, or weekend activities, or baseball games,” he says. “We had to watch that, we had to see that, take that in and decide how we felt about it. Obviously as a country as a whole, we were outraged by it. Sickened by it. Saddened by it.”

The Emmy-winning journalist has witnessed and covered many important moments in American history. When asked if he knew Floyd’s death on May 25 would be a cultural turning point, Roker replies, “I didn’t.”

“I didn’t because we’ve gone through these before, whether it’s school shootings or brutalization or murder of a person of color. You know, as [Reverend] Al Sharpton said, it’s a moment, not a movement. Well, this has become a movement,” he notes.

Roker interviewed civil rights icon John Lewis on the third hour of Today one month before the congressman died. He recalls having a similar conversation with Lewis about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I asked him — because I was in high school in the late ’60s when there was all this unrest — you lived this. You bled for this country in your demonstrations. Does this feel different?” Roker recalls. “And he said it does. It gave him hope. I’m glad that before he left this earth he felt hopeful about where we are going.”

In his memoir, Roker shares poignant advice he got from his father: “Al — you’re a Black kid, You will have to work twice as hard and be twice as good as the kid next to you. It’s a fact, that’s just the way it is.” That’s advice he tells Yahoo he’s never forgotten.

“You’ll have to work twice as hard just to get half as far,” Roker adds. “I remember him saying that and I said, ‘Dad that’s not fair.’ He goes, ‘It’s not about fair, it’s about life.’”

Roker, who is married to ABC News journalist Deborah Roberts, says he has shared similar advice with his three children: Courtney, 33, Leila, 21, and Nicholas, 18. The movement — and moment — has been an emotional one for the Today star.

“I’ve told them, they’ve gotta work hard,” Roker explains. “This whole moment has actually — I wasn’t able to put in words. My son, he just turned 18, but he’s a big kid. He’s a pussycat, but he’s a big kid and he takes the subway to school. Sometimes he’s not aware of his own body and space. I don’t breathe a sigh of relief until he walks in every afternoon. I didn’t realize it, and then it was like, ‘This is what I’ve been feeling.’”

In true Roker fashion, he then quips that his kids have been “holding their breath” for fear he’s “going to embarrass them” in his memoir. (He doesn’t think he did, though.)

Roker’s Today show family — Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Carson Daly and Craig Melvin — have also been incredibly supportive of his book. They recently reunited for the first time in months for the launch of Today All Day, the morning show’s new streaming service on Peacock and

“It was emotional,” he says of the socially distant gathering. “Everybody together, it was overwhelming.”

Roker’s final lesson in his book is that everyone needs their own A-Team. For the weatherman, that team consists of those Today colleagues.

“I credit my A-Team for my success,” he writes. “My A-Team inspires me, keeps my spirits up, keeps me on my toes, keeps me sane and makes it a lot easier to show up for work at the crack of dawn. … The bottom line is that if you create your own A-Team, you’ll always have the right support.”

You Look So Much Better in Person is available on Amazon.

Video: Al Roker and Savannah Guthrie reunite for first time since quarantine

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