On Don Lemon, “Taking Back Uncle Tom,” and Solutions That Fall Short of Black America’s Problems Bradford J. Howard July 29, 2013 Features, News In recent weeks, Black people have been getting a lot of attention in the media. It seemed to have started with the media presence and buzz surrounding the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial and has since evolved into its own monster, prompting a sort of nationwide conversation about race Black people that has landed on major news networks, been discussed by cultural critics and newscasters, and has fallen everywhere from Paula Deen to Bill O’Reilly to Stephen Colbert (the last of whom lampooned it all just last week). Everyone had something to say about Black people and what they could do to “be better” except Black people (unless you count Crystal Wright, known for her twitter handle @GOPBlackChick). Until now. CNN news correspondent Don Lemon has been at the head of recent programming on the cable news network that has targeted- err, poor word, been aimed at attracting African-American audiences. Lemon has evolved into the network’s “voice of Blackness” in place of the absent Soledad O’ Brien while Black in America V is being developed, heading up recent CNN special reports related to “the n-word” and the African-American presence on Twitter. This past weekend, however, during his “No Talking Points” segment, Lemon voiced his support for Bill O’Reilly’s recent rant on his Fox News television show regarding the Black community. In fact, Don Lemon even said that O’ Reilly’s critique “didn’t go far enough.” Lemon then proceeded to offer up a list of five things Black people should “think about doing… if they want to fix the problem,” taking care to offer the disclaimer at both the beginning and end of this listing that “if this doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you.” Lemon’s five points, summarized: 5. Pull up your pants and stop sagging. 4. Stop using the n-word. 3. Respect where you live by not littering. 2. Finish school. 1. Just because you have a baby, doesn’t mean you should (going on to correlate children had out of wedlock with absent fathers) I’ll avoid tackling the fourth point specifically because our own Simply Cecilia has prompted that discussion on this site in better words than I could have. But I think that each of these broad “quick fixes” has been attempted by many Black people and yet, still, they remain discriminated against or disrespected. Don Lemon isn’t the first person to speak out against the Black community’s transgressions and be embroiled in controversy because of it (Bill Cosby, anyone?), but rather the most recent addition in a long line of cultural critics that place complete accountability upon African-Americans and absolve anyone else of their assumptions or assessments of us. What was more frustrating telling, was Lemon’s response to individuals who chose to admonish or critique Lemon’s comments on twitter. Don Lemon “embraced” being called “Uncle Tom” behind his so-called tough love, when in actuality; such insults were dished out because the Black community is tired of having themselves under the microscope. African-Americans seem to be one of the most scrutinized ethnic groups on the face of the planet. Either we haven’t done enough for others’ approval, or we do too much for others’ approval, carry ourselves to a high standard and try to live our lives right and STILL become subject to instances of disrespect. While no one wants to be that Black person who blames “The Man” for much of our community’s problems, the fact remains that there are many in society who had access to privileges and opportunities for decades if not centuries, that Blacks in the U.S. have only really begun to tap into for the last fifty years; and that there are still barriers in place, such as jobs that discriminate against employees for having “unprofessional” (read: ethnic) sounding names, that prevent many Black people from participation period. For every Black person who drops out of high school and doesn’t finish college for the wrong reasons, there’s another Black person whose “taking a break for one semester” because her mother got laid off and she had to help with the household income, ended up a longer break than expected. We know that college graduates make more money than those with only a high school diploma, but unfortunately some of us just don’t make it back – if they even make it at all – because life happens. “Respecting where you live” is as much about involving yourself within the community as it is about polluting in it. Whether you wear sagging jeans or a suit, as a Black man, you may incite fear and anxiety (and, truth be told, thugs and criminals – of ALL races – can wear a suit and tie, too). And just because a baby is had out of wedlock, doesn’t automatically mean the father isn’t present. Absentee fatherhood is a reality in the African-American community, but many couples (not just Black ones) do exist without being married as active parents and partners. African-Americans are simply too vast in number and too multifaceted a culture for a blanket Band-Aid to be placed upon our many “boo-boos.” Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Black people have their share of problems and “we GOTTA do better” moments. I know what I personally need to work on, and I know in some areas, I still fall short. But we have to want to do better for our damn selves, not because it’ll make us look better to others. Perhaps, most importantly, we have to ask ourselves why it matters so much how others perceive us. Perhaps, instead of saying Blacks play the victim, one might question what exists in society that makes Blacks feel victimized. I can assure you, African-Americans aren’t crying wolf without reason. If, as the saying goes, Blacks have to work twice as hard and act responsibly just to make it… then perhaps others should be challenged to think just as responsibly and consider the facts when it comes to Black people. *Video Courtesy of RealClearPolitics Share this:TweetShare on Tumblr Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.