By Dr. Boyce Watkins
Once I expressed concern to a friend about the policies being endorsed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. My friend then asked me, “Would you feel better if President Bush’s closest advisers were all white males?”
I replied, “Actually, they are white males. It just so happens that one of them has dark-skin and a vagina.”
My point in that otherwise crass remark was not to disparage Condoleezza. It was instead to note that a person’s skin color means almost nothing relative to the agenda they represent. If you are controlled by white males, pursuing the agenda of white males, and have the same societal impact as a white male, then you’re pretty much a white guy too. At the very least, your ethnicity goes from being correlational to purely circumstantial.
I think I may have Don Lemon figured out. Don is a relatively well-educated, hard-working, law abiding citizen, as well as a proud gay man. He is the darling of the liberal establishment, and realized long ago that he can get rich and famous by proving to white people that he’s “different from those other people,” meaning loud mouth negroes such as myself.
Don also possesses the arrogance that comes with being a young, light-skinned black man who’s been elevated by the legitimacy granted to leading blacks who are accepted by white American media. CNN, MSNBC and other networks have long been in the business of creating “black thought leaders” by simply giving them a large platform to serve as mouth pieces for an agenda that has typically left us at the back of the bus. Also, we have to face the fact that there are many in the gay and female liberal establishment who think of black men as ignorant, s*exist, homophobic neanderthals. Hardcore feminism and gay rights have never mixed very well with our community.
I don’t hate Don, but I’m a little disappointed in him.
Don’s recent remarks about dressing and speaking appropriately weren’t just disappointing because he found himself taking the advice of a man like Bill O’Reilly. They were also sad because he’s found himself using his platform as a way to join the full-scale verbal assaults that conservative media tends to put on the African American community. In their minds, Trayvon deserved to die for wearing a hoodie, and any black man who isn’t well-versed at acting as white as he possibly can deserves whatever he has coming to him.
If I speak a little slang, wear the wrong outfit, get a tattoo or (God forbid) let my pants sag, then I can only blame myself when a racist lunatic with a thirst for blood profiles, stalks, and chases me down before shooting me dead. Thank God I learned how to make white people feel comfortable; maybe I should have gotten my PhD in “Whiteman-ology” instead of Finance.
This goes deeper than Lemon telling people to dress better and speak well. Yea, yea Don, I’m a professor who grew up around white people, so I understand all of that. What’s most telling about Don’s criticism of the black community is that there is a blatant asymmetry in the manner by which he attacks other black people with the ferocity of a lion, but becomes as meek as a choir boy when asked to speak about the systematic racism being perpetuated by whites. If he were to do that, he’d be like all the other talented black journalists who can’t find a job because they have the audacity to speak for their community.
Don should remember that a half-truth is very close to being a lie. If a man says, “Officer, that guy punched me,” then it would be less than genuine to “forget” that the first man raped the other man’s daughter and pulled a gun out on his mother. That’s what often happens when people do fourth-grader analysis on the race problem in America: People love to discuss the last 20 years of history while forgetting about the 400 years that preceded it.
Yvette Carnell explains it well:
What Lemon never mentions is the impact of poverty, systemic racism, or the defunding of our communities, like the school closures in Chicago. In Lemon’s mind, none of this matters. It would all be fixed if black men would only pull their pants up. Is there any veracity to what Lemon is saying? Some, yes. But his comments are not balanced and certainly not thoughtful.
Don should probably realize that when you assert that black culture is the predominant cause of the suffering of the African American community, you are effectively saying that black people are inferior to whites. Yes, you are the chosen and exceptional negro, but you should not leverage your own success by sticking a knife into the neck of other black people. Don also serves to devalue our humanity by implying that we enjoy going to prison, getting shot, and being unemployed. There is the implication that through some genetic miracle, black men love our children less or don’t get opportunities because we don’t know how to please the people who’ve been trained to oppress us for centuries.
As Don talks about why black men should dress better and why black mothers need to shut their legs and get married, here are a few other things that he might want to mention:
• By creating laws specifically designed to profile and incarcerate black people, America now locks up more black men than South Africa did during the height of apartheid, one of the most racist regimes in the history of the world (so, the data implies that America is more racist than the old South Africa). It’s hard for families to stay together when you’re sending every other potential father or husband off to forced labor camps for decades at a time. This also breaks down the structure of the family, leading to a broad increase in the number of single-parent households (see the anti-mass incarceration campaign by myself and Russell Simmons to understand this issue further).
• Black schools are funded at a rate that is significantly lower than white ones. It’s difficult for kids to speak Don Lemon’s proper English if the schools can’t even afford to buy books. In fact, there are quite a few states that are spending more money on building prisons for black children than educating them. Don, please talk about that during your next rant.
• Nearly every statistical study imaginable shows that even when black people have plenty of education, they are less likely to be hired and the first to get fired. An excellent case-in-point is when Yolanda Spivey showed that the number of call backs she received dramatically increased when she changed her resume and pretended to be a white girl. So, despite the claim that black unemployment exists because those “lazy buffoons” don’t want to work, the truth is that discrimination is very real.
• Because of widespread joblessness, incarceration, a poor educational system, and drugs/guns being dropped off in black communities, many of our kids can’t even walk to school without worrying about taking a bullet to the brain. These drugs and guns are not delivered by black people. Can you investigate this on CNN? I bet they won’t let you.
• Many of the cultural challenges we have as a community come right out of the music that is played to our kids on the radio by companies like Clear Channel, which promote violence, drug/alcohol abuse, s*xual irresponsibility, etc (see our push to destroy Lil Wayne’s deal with Pepsico to understand what I’m talking about). Don and Bill would never confess that it is the cultural failings of white America which have led gun manufacturers, private prisons, major record labels and others to profit by marketing death and despair to young African Americans – as a business school professor, I can assure you that MARKETING-DOES-WORK.
Hint to Don: Almost none of the destructive entities I’ve mentioned are owned by black people, even BET. So, the next time you see a jobless, uneducated thug with eight baby’s mamas and sagging pants rob your friend on the street, understand that this man was made in America. He got his gun there too.
I could go on and on, but the truth is that Don and Bill O’Reilly might find a way to blame white racism on black people too, like the abusive husband who says, “I wouldn’t have had to beat you if you hadn’t kept burning my dinner.” It is the persistent commitment to lying about racism that keeps our country from moving forward. It’s hard to take responsibility for a state-sponsored 400-year holocaust, and easier to use your power to allow yourself to live in denial.
God bless Don Lemon, and I hope he has a long, vibrant career in media. But all of us have issues, and I think that Don’s latent anger toward the African American community (especially black men) is making him the black gay equivalent to the angry white male. Growing up as a gay, abused child in the bible belt of Louisiana had to be difficult for him, and I can’t help but wonder if his disturbing remarks are a reaction to the rejection he’s felt from black America over the years. We should be ashamed for mistreating him, and I’d like to be the first to say, “Don, I’m sorry for what others have done to make you so angry at the black community right now.”
Don, we’re not all bad. Also, if I get shot while walking down the street while wearing my hoodie, just remember that my death will not be interpreted the same way if my name were Mark Zuckerberg. He wears hoodies too, and no one says he should die because of it.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series, “The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment.”