Don Lemon created a media firestorm this week when he seconded Bill O’Reilly’s excoriation of the black community, by asserting the FOX News pundit didn’t go far enough. Lemon then listed five ways the black community needs to change in a “No Talking Points” segment on CNN. He went on “The View” yesterday to defend his rant, which many felt was offensive and narrow-minded.
He explained to the hosts that he was simply trying to give “suggestions” to African-Americans like pulling up their pants and stop saying the “n-word.” Joy Behar responded by asking, “Which part is controversial?”
Lemon didn’t see why what he said caused such a stir, saying, “That’s advice my mother gave me in kindergarten.” He said the pants issue, for example, was just a “symbol of respect,” adding he wasn’t giving advice on how to “end racism” but rather on “self-empowerment” for African-Americans.
Sherri Shepherd hit the nail on the head when she said it was Lemon’s comments involving Bill O’Reilly people really “took umbrage” with. “I don’t want to give Bill O’Reilly license to say anything,” Shepherd said, “because he’s never been a young black man.”
While Lemon’s self-improvement tips could help any race of people, what he fails to acknowledge is that changing our style of dress and speech won’t begin to break down the system of institutionalized racism that plagues black men in America. Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is an upstanding citizen and well-dressed contributing member to society but he was still racially profiled, arrested and accused of “breaking into” his own home. The conversation on race has to go beyond the superficial when black men who get an education, wear suits and don’t litter are still being systematically discriminated against.
Keith Boykin echoes that sentiment, writing for BET:
“Sagging pants and littering neighbors aren’t stopping young Black men from getting jobs. It’s racial, social and class inequality that’s stopping them. It’s the lack of educational and economic opportunities available to them. It’s the disproportionate incarceration of young black men and the 700,000 stop-and-frisks on New York City streets. Unfortunately, what Lemon’s analysis does is confuse cause and effect. That’s because it’s a lot easier to focus on the effects – the street issues – than to deal with the cause – entrenched systemic and institutional barriers that restrict opportunities for African-Americans.
[…] To be clear, I’m not making excuses for Black kids or assuming they’re all the same. I’m just not blaming them for forces beyond their control. Like most African-American parents, I want my kids to be productive members of society. I don’t want them to use racism as an excuse for failing to try. But I also don’t want them to think that the burden to fix our community is theirs alone. If we really want to practice tough love in America, as Don Lemon argues, then we should start by examining the priorities of the adults in our larger society, not by knocking our kids.”
Watch Lemon on “The View” below: