Black Men

Dr. Boyce: Why is CNN Allowing Don Lemon to Go Into Angry Tirades Against Black People?

weopewopewposby Dr. Boyce Watkins

I don’t dislike Don Lemon, but I’ll admit that he’s never made me comfortable.  The only time he’s ever interviewed me was during a segment about Tiger Woods a few years ago, and I picked up a peculiar arrogance in his voice and gestures that, quite frankly, threw me off.   I originally wrote it off as the overconfidence of a young kid who was proud and excited to have a national platform, but you can imagine my shock when I found out that Don is nearly 50 years old.

Don Lemon analyzing race is like the school mascot coaching the football team.  You watch enough action from the sidelines, and you begin to believe that you’re a player.  The armchair quarterback is the one who thinks that the running back should have been able to play with a broken leg or that the team keeps losing because they won’t implement the offensive schemes that give him success on his Xbox360 console.

In response to the firestorm of criticism Don received for his explanation for why racial inequality exists in America, Don kept right at it, encouraging others to attack the problem instead of attacking him.  But Don, the problem is that you are the problem.  Those in positions of power who possess antiquated and misguided attitudes about people of color are the ones who (perhaps inadvertently) keep racial discrimination alive and well in America.  Secondly, for Don to ask others to simply attack the problem would be hypocritical, because Don himself has not chosen to attack the problem of structural racism, and has instead dedicated valuable CNN airtime to attacking black people.

This is not to question Don Lemon’s “black card,” but it is to say that his “analysis” on race is one of the most embarrassing television debacles since the release of the movie “Soul Plane.”   Here are some things that Don needs to stop doing right now:

1) Stop talking about race on CNN without providing proper context:  Is Don a journalist or a talking head?  I can’t imagine Anderson Cooper going into tirades against the gay community or a female CNN personality explaining to women why they deserve to be raped and abused.   If that’s the case, then why does CNN make an exception and allow Don Lemon to go into his verbal assaults against black people?  Even worse is that these third-grader conversations are rarely balanced, as Don appears to have become so emotionally invested that he won’t let the argument go until he finally wins.  This is hardly the kind of professionalism one might expect from an allegedly objective journalist.  Don should save his rants for conversations at Starbucks.

2) Stop using Martin Luther King and Malcolm X to bolster your argument:  I can’t speak for Dr. King and Malcolm X, but as Don uses select quotes of prominent black leaders to support his point of view, he’d be wise to also mention that these men were incredibly critical of the white American establishment in the creation and perpetuation of systematic obstacles which serve to maintain white supremacy.   You can’t talk about the reactions of black people without discussing the actions of white people.

An example for Don might be the song “Hood Mentality” by the rapper Ice Cube.  In this song, Ice Cube uses his credibility among young black men to help them understand the importance of averting counter-productive thinking.  At the same time, Ice Cube has marginalized himself from certain mainstream opportunities by standing up against major media outlets or institutional forces that serve to oppress black men.  The point here Don is that he barks at white people just as much as he barks at the brothers.  He doesn’t run and hide behind the “personal responsibility” label when its time to stand up like a man and fight for the liberation of his people.

Dr. King and Malcolm X were able to say many of the things that Lemon himself might say, but they would never be pandering to a predominantly white audience with an imbalanced, self-serving argument.   If you also stand up and fight for the people you criticize, then you get credit for administering tough love.  But criticizing black people without fighting for them puts you in alignment with every other bigot who thinks we’re inferior.

By being perched up in a predominantly white media outlet with the sole purpose of denigrating black people, Don is effectively attacking 10 percent of his audience, while the other 90 percent enjoys the show.  That’s why Bill O’Reilly is in the background clapping for you, and not Harry Belafonte.

3) Stop letting white people off the hook:  When you start strong-armed critique of black people by basically saying that “this has nothing to do with what white people have done,” then you’ve pretty much murdered your argument before it even begins.  Black people don’t shape the laws in this country.  They didn’t create the 100-t0-1 crack-to-powder disparity, leading to an incarceration crisis of epic proportions.  They didn’t decide that inner city schools won’t have enough money to buy books.  They didn’t decide to implement the stop-and-frisk policies, leading to decade-long prison sentences for young black men who haven’t broken as many laws as I’ve seen broken by white kids at Syracuse University on Friday nights.  Black men didn’t manufacture the guns that are being allowed to enter urban centers where kids are killing each other.   They don’t own companies like Clear Channel, which earn billions by distorting hip-hop music into a message of ignorance and self-destruction.  I find it odd that Don can readily attack those who are affected by these structural issues, but won’t address the structural issues themselves.

To talk about racial inequality without holding white America accountable is like talking about the actions of  Madea without mentioning Tyler Perry.   When you start such a conversation by saying, “Look, I’m not here to talk about what Tyler is doing, I am here to talk about Madea,” you’re Stevie Wonder-blind on the dynamics of the process that you’re claiming to analyze.  So, this goes back to my original point:  Don Lemon should not be speaking on racial dynamics at all, since he appears to be unable to even grasp simple societal cause-and-effect.

4) Stop pretending you know everything:  Humility is the key to growth and the development of honest, open dialog.  Even as a professor with far more formal education than Don Lemon will ever have in his life (sorry, but this is a fact, I was teaching college students at the age of 22), I learned a long time ago that in order to be a good teacher, I need to be a good student. This is doubly true if I disagree with you.  I have several Republicans in my family who constantly tell me that I’m wrong about nearly everything, but I spend my time at the dinner table listening rather than telling them that they are dumb and misguided.

Don seems to feel that he suddenly has all the answers that the rest of the “ignorant negroes” are simply unable to grasp.    He has somehow confused white media validation with true success, and has become determined to use his CNN platform as a billboard promoting black assimilation as the solution to all that ails our community.  All of this points right back to white supremacy, since it effectively says that black people fail because they don’t choose to conduct themselves in ways that white people find acceptable.  Therefore, we can only blame ourselves when the white guy fires us, the white officer chooses to arrest us or if George Zimmerman stalks us, chases us down and murders us in cold blood.

But here’s a newsflash for the journalists on CNN:  Black people are just as rational as anyone else.  This means that we respond to our environment, to stimuli, to oppression and to opportunity in a manner that is not much different from the way whites would respond if they were in the same situation.  In other words, we are human. 

So, this odd notion that black men are the only group of people on earth who WANT to die, who WANT to be unemployed, who WANT their children to suffer, or who WANT to go to prison is as ridiculous as saying that gay children are choosing to be bullied on the way to school because they refuse to stop being gay.  Perhaps by approaching the conversation with balance, and getting rid of the arrogance, Don might be able to actually get somewhere with this.  Right now, he’s making himself and his network look silly, racist and insulting.  I’m very disappointed with CNN and I hope they get back to real journalism.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the author of the lecture series, “The 8 Principles of Black Male Empowerment.”  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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