The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is because of the disintegration of the African-American family. – Bill O’Reilly
STFU Bill – The vast majority of black people in America
Recently CNN’s Don Lemon proposed some solutions to deal with alleged persistent problems in the African American community (see video above). He suggested 5 things that he feels would be effective: hiking up pants, finishing school, restraint from N-word usage, taking better care of own communities, and not having so many babies out of wedlock. Lemon caught a considerable amount of flack (i.e. people lost their minds) for expressing these opinions. I should add that he prefaced his suggestions by agreeing with criticism of African Americans that came from the obnoxious mouth of Bill O’Reilly. Not only did he agree with it, but he said Bill didn’t go far enough. Not that Bill is the first white person or Don Lemon the first black person to propose racial self criticism rather than only directing critique outward towards “the oppressor”. I should also add that the genesis of this topic was the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal after belated arrest of George Zimmerman. At this particular moment in history as we cry #JusticeForTrayvon and aim to counter the unfair verdict with decisive action, self criticism is the last thing many black people want to hear. When connecting such (well meaning?) (condescending?) advice to the killing of Trayvon Martin, it sounds like one is agreeing with the prosecutor’s POV (which the jury went along with) that Trayvon brought about his own death, rather than seeing the fault as lying primarily/exclusively with his killer. Don Lemon wasn’t actually talking about Zimmerman’s acquittal when giving his self-help proposals. I also suspect Bill O’Reilly (whom I dislike and won’t be coy about it) was not talking specifically about the disintegration of Trayvon Martin’s family as the cause of his death. Nevertheless, Bill’s judgment and Don’s suggestions and mass furor over Zimmerman’s acquittal have become intertwined. This led to Don Lemon (no point in yelling at O’Reilly, he’d just revel in it) getting an earful of pissed off responses. “How dare you give the African American community advice? To hell with you for insinuating that we need help, that we have problems in need of fixing. If you must criticize, can’t you at least be original rather than repeating Bill Cosby’s material? And shame on you for suggesting that Bill O’Reilly has ever been right about anything.
My own response to Mr. Lemon is considerably less heated, which isn’t to say that I’m in full agreement with him. I certainly don’t think it was smart of him to co-sign as divisive a figure as O’Reilly or any of his conservative ilk that pollute the airwaves (primarily on Fox). And Don should have known his timing was very poor. Perhaps he knew and doesn’t care. He seems like an intelligent man so he probably anticipated backlash. To get discussion started it is often necessary to ruffle feathers and Don Lemon certainly accomplished that. Pointing out white privilege will get you nods and high fives of agreement every time. Pointing out black responsibility for projecting a negative image (have you listened to the lyrics of those rap songs; have you seen those gold teeth; why is gang culture exalted rather than condemned?) usually results in jeers and sarcastic hashtags on Twitter. Why should we follow Lemon's non-militant advice? After all, if his suggestions were followed to the letter there would still be racism against black people across America. There’s just no getting around that. If every black person walked around in tuxedos and evening gowns, showing off their PhD credentials, never saying a single word beginning with the letter N, carrying brooms at all times to keep their neighborhoods litter free, and pulled off having every child born into a nuclear family – there would still be a bunch of bigots who hate and/or disrespect black people. Disdain of white privilege would remain the go to response. In other words, if Don Lemon was Emperor of the Universe and could make his suggestions reality with a wave of his magic wand, post racial America would be about the same distance away as it is now. Black people don’t need to prove to whites that they’re worthy to be treated as equals in every regard. This just needs to happen beginning yesterday.
On the other hand, if you were one of the squeaky wheels demanding oil after Don Lemon’s proclamations, what exactly did he suggest that you find problematic? This is what I think:
1) Pants sagging below one’s ass is an idiotic look, there’s just no getting around it. If homeless people look at you and shake their heads at your fashion style, you’ve made a wrong turn. Yet a fairly significant number of black people for reasons that escape me are walking around like this, and it’s been going on for quite a few years now. I don’t care if the look was inspired by prison culture or an episode of Gilligan’s Island or whatever. I just know that it isn’t worth defending and we might want to move on to something ever so slightly less ludicrous, such as the bolo tie. Purchasing belts/suspenders won’t create wealth (unless it gets you the job you applied for) or eradicate racism, but it will restore a measure of dignity to those who elected to abandon it.
2) Take school seriously, not that there aren't other alternatives to success but they have a lower percentage. Pursue higher education for it has been proven to lead to higher income which leads to overall better quality of life. There is nothing wrong with supporting this idea or with finding an anti-education/anti-grammar/anti-upward mobility mindset to be self destructive.
3) Changing “er” at the end of an insult to “a” does not make it poetry. It just keeps a hateful word alive and promotes hypocrisy. “I can say it but you can’t because I say so” is a weak argument that should not need to be made over and over and over again. It's like Italians claiming they're the only ones who have permission to say "spaghetti". Hell no.
4) Cleanliness is next to Godliness and makes a much better impression than filth. This was probably Lemon’s weakest point. Wealthy neighborhoods are in better condition than poor ones because of money. The haves have, the have-nots don’t so suffer as result. But it goes without saying that people should take care of their communities as much as they are able.
5) There are many heads of single parent households doing a bang up job. But would we be better off if fewer teen girls were getting pregnant and if the guys responsible were holding up their end when pregnancies happen? Of course. A child born without a proper support network in place will be less likely to excel in school, so addressing Lemon's fifth suggestion should take care of suggestion #2. Would there also be less people littering while walking around with sagging pants and calling themselves niggas? Probably.
Don Lemon did not say anything new. There are some who agree that following up on his suggestions would improve things, others who simply find them insulting. If you’re one of those who does not believe the advice will do any good, tell me, what harm would it do? The truth is, I’ve heard far worse recommendations and suspect you have too.
But I don’t believe black people should be singled out by Lemon, O’Reilly or anyone else for their perceived faults. So to even things out here are 5 unrequested suggestions to all white people. I’ll provide the same disclaimer that Lemon did. “If this doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you.”
1) Enough with the white flight. If the demographics of your neighborhood are changing, faces getting browner, embrace the diversity rather than fleeing from it. We can all learn from one another, enjoy each other’s company, and yes, we can all get along.
2) No more token friends of color to bring up when you’re accused of racism in order to prove you aren’t racist. They need to be your actual friends that you spend non-required (workplace doesn’t count) time with, have over to your house repeatedly for social interaction, vacation with, consider as godparents for your kids, stuff like that. If you had authentic friendships with black people you probably wouldn’t have made the comment that somebody found offensive.
3) Hypocritical or not, don’t pretend you don’t realize that your use of the N-word will be deemed an insult. This is true even if you said it to a guy who just referred to you, himself and his grandmother as N-words. Yes, I realize how illogical this seems but just roll with me anyway and delete the word from your vocabulary no matter how anybody chooses to spell it.
4) Stop pretending that welfare, food stamps, public assistance of any kind is taking money away from all white people to give to all black people. There are black ghettoes and there are white ghettoes. Okay, maybe the white ones call themselves trailer parks rather than ghettoes. You still get my point that poverty doesn’t have a color, it sucks all around, and everyone mired in it will have a tougher time acquiring bootstraps to pull up than those who never had to wonder where their next meal was coming from.
5) If you insist on being a conservative republican, figure out how to do so employing language that does not insult black people. This should not be all that difficult as there’s nothing especially bigoted about being Pro Life, or a member of the NRA, or in favor of smaller, less intrusive government. If you professed those things and managed to piss a black person off in the process, double check how you chose to express it because you may have said a bit more than that. For example, if based on your preference for less governmental interference in day to day affairs you concluded that President Obama was born in Kenya and has a master plan to convert America 100% to socialism, you went too far.
BONUS SUGGESTION: If someone reports their spouse or kids has been killed and claims "some black guy did it", don't buy into the story at face value and go rounding up random black men. If someone claims he shot a black man for looking/acting suspicious, don't just accept the explanation as gospel, shake the confessed killer's hand and wish him a good day. Don't get played by buying into BS stereotypes. Plenty of times the white person did it and the "ominous" black man was minding his own business or not even present at the scene of the crime. Don't believe the hype.