The whole Don Lemon controversy has, once again, brought forth discussion about open, honest dialogue about the state of race in America.
For a significant portion of the black community, Lemon’s suggestions for self-empowerment as a collective race came off as a condescending lecture at best and racial betrayal at worst, as he co-signed with similar comments by Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly.
I’m a young black man myself who typically follows Lemon’s suggestions more or less. For instance, I don’t sag my pants, only because I personally think it is outrageously tacky, not because of a need to prove a point to someone else. I couldn’t help but note that, despite my demeanor and personal dress code, I was still subjected to experiences of discrimination. Initially, I was offended by Lemon’s insinuation that any discrimination was the fault of those discriminated. It also didn’t help that he was basically agreeing with man whose intentions were likely less than pure, whether Lemon’s were or not (his current media tour is only making it worse).
However, after giving it considerable thought, I started thinking about the “discussion” as a whole, instead of the particular comments.
How ready are we, as a collective nation, to actually talk about race?
As I see it, there are ultimately two opposing sides, with some ideologies that lie in between. There are those who believe that racism in America is a thing of the past, and that any perceived instances are either non-existent or should be blamed on the black community. Then there are those who feel that, despite obvious advancements over time, there are vestigial, institutional aspects of American society that allow racism to remain pervasive.
What I’ve come to find is that neither side is really trying to converse with the other.
Using Lemon as an example, he and others who think as he does, are perplexed by criticism of his criticism. He claims it is simply common sense and good taste, something his mother taught him in kindergarten. I have read comments across the Internet from people that argue that black people don’t want to hear the truth about their communities, and only want to play the blame game regarding race.
On the other hand, black people quickly attacked Don Lemon for his comments. He was called, among other things, a “turncoat mofo” and, of course, Uncle Tom, which means, for those unfamiliar, he essentially threw his fellow black man under the bus to appease white people (specifically his bosses at CNN in this case). Essentially, the rhetoric on this side is that white people, who have never had the black experience in America and don’t have to deal with the connotations of race on a daily basis (read “white privilege”), should not be offering any kind of commentary on how black people should behave, because it is never that simple.
As I hopefully mapped it out, there are two trains of thought here, crashing into each other repeatedly. Both sides aim to invalidate the other with rather simplistic arguments. Those against Lemon are ignoring the, frankly, valid points he makes about our community and how we care ourselves. I only need to say “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.” Those with Lemon don’t understand that racial politics are a lot more complicated than quick fixes. If that were the case, to be able to end racism by simply throwing on some Calvin Klein, I’m pretty sure Macy’s would be sold out forever (which would make my life suck, since I love that brand, but I digress). And that isn’t even calling into question whether that type of fashion is even economically accessible to those living in the kinds of neighborhoods that Lemon refers to.
I think both sides, everyone in America, isn’t really talking about race because no one is really acknowledging just how complicated it really is. Anyone who thought MLK’s dream was fulfilled when Obama was elected are deluding themselves, no matter how momentous it was in our history.
There really is no one moment or suggestion or human who will magically erase racism. It’s systemic, institutional, generational and highly politicized (hence the constant throwing around of “conservative” and “liberal” throughout this whole situation).
Yet, it’s a poisonous construct that demeans one sect of humanity for another.
So with all of that said, I wonder what will it take, or if we are even capable at this point in time to discuss race, whatever that means. I certainly don’t claim to have a single answer, but I do know that the current state of speaking is not cutting it anymore.
Of course, my thoughts on this topic are evolving. I greatly appreciate any comments or questions you have. In fact I encourage them. My only request is that the comments remain respectful, lest they be deleted.