Commentary: Don Lemon agrees with Bill O’Reilly

01 Apr , 2014

commentaryI realize many folks are outraged by the comments Don Lemon made in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman (or Trayvon Martin, if you will) verdict.

Don lemon believes this is a verdict we must accept. I don’t agree. Those most closely impacted by this decision may have cringed at the very idea of being told they need to accept the jury’s findings in this case. They can’t accept it, and I doubt they ever will accept it.

Lemon played back a few clips to support various points he was making. Bill O’Reilly commented that the reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration in the African-American family. He observed that many African-American (AA) children are raised without much structure, and that young black men often reject education and gravitate to street culture, drugs, hustling, and gangs. Nobody forces them to do that, he argues. It is a personal decision.

Lemon said O’Reilly was right. I don’t agree. Before I explain why, let me just add that I did not see this show in its entirety so I’m not sure what he meant by “black precincts.” Who lives in a precinct? I’m merely pointing out that as a child, I never invited friends over to my precinct to play. I take no issue with his observation that the AA family has disintegrated, although this can be found in any family of any race. I can attest to the fact that many AA children are raised without structure. What I take issue with is his depiction of the AA child as one who rejects education. What child do you know, between age 0 and 5, rejects learning? Those are the years when adults pour into children. People by nature gravitate toward knowledge; they do not retreat from it. I think a better word would have been “pushed.” As a seasoned educator, I have seen many students pushed out of the classroom by teachers who have a low tolerance for misbehavior, coupled with a weak classroom management skill set. Referrals become the remedy for a talkative child or a student who does not complete homework, or the kid who needs to sharpen his pencil more often than he uses it to write. Learning materials that were presented with such innovation, creativity and excitement in their younger years are now more difficult and presented in monotone. What the kids O’Reilly describes are gravitating toward is not the thug life. It is gratification, acceptance, excitement, and learning opportunities provided by someone who is willing to teach them, albeit the lessons are dangerous and often damning. The “personal decision” to choose this life over education, staying in school, doing homework, standing in front of a classroom of peers who may or may not subscribe to this student’s newfound positive direction could be risky. Acceptance. 

Lemon offered 5 ways—in ascending order-- to turn things around in the AA community. 

5. “Pull up your pants,” he says. “Self-esteem is sagging… respect… rules… sagging pants, walking around with your ass and your underwear showing is not okay.”  I agree. However, I have found that while many men have elected to frown upon the sight of sagging pants, few choose to approach the young man and suggest he pull up his pants. Many explain they are cautious because, “you never know what one of them might be carrying or what he might do.” Well, let me tell you what they do when I approach them –in the mall, on the street, on campus before they walk into the classroom, wherever. They pull up their pants while smiling and apologizing. Every time. So, if the only time they are going to hear a successful black man tell them to pull up their pants is from a television screen or youtube clip or radio show, don’t be surprised if they can’t relate to you, or won’t listen to you.

4. Stop using the N-word (“for our generation, what we did is we took the word and took the power out of that word…took this word and we made it into poetry” as quoted by two proponents of the use of the N-Word in music) Lemon appeals, “By promoting the use of that word when it’s not germane to the conversation, have you ever considered you might be perpetuating the stereotype the Mas’er intended? Acting like a nigger.” (Lemon shared the following anecdote: A mom yelled, “I’m sick of you. You act like an old ass man! Stop all that crying, nigger) Lemon asks, “Is that taking the word back?” I agree. Further, I believe the two gentlemen who justified the use of the word really believe what they are saying.  I have heard some very intelligent, very successful, very affluent black men and a few black women use it in casual yet animated discussions. Appalling. You take the power out of the word by ceasing to use it. You take the power out of the word by ceasing to respond when someone calls you by it. That is not happening. I’d prefer that the users of the word to just use it and say, “I like the way it sounds.” Then, listen to how exactly the same it sounds when a white person uses it. When a white person used it just before a lynching. Nevermind. That would be too much like work.

3. Respect where you live – Lemon stated he’s lived in several predominantly white neighborhoods, yet he “rarely if ever witnessed people littering.” I agree. All people should respect where they live. My only concern here is Lemon’s reflection on his previous experiences. Mine are dissimilar. I have only owned two homes thus far, both in affluent neighborhoods (described as, “where the rich, white folk live, out in the boonies”). I have had to ask white neighbors walking by and caught in the act, to come back and pick up their trash. Other times, I have had to pick up cigarette butts, beer cans, candy wrappers, snack wraps, etc. out of my yard, not to mention dog poo. Not one black person in sight. I don’t smoke or drink beer. And I don’t own a dog. His point could have been made without comparing one race to another. 

2. Finish school – break the cycle of poverty. I agree. This sounds so easy. Just get out there and finish school, thereby breaking an entire generational cycle of poverty with the mighty high school diploma. There is so much to it, and I’m sure Lemon is aware of this.  My point is, there are steps within steps to achieving these goals. Many steps. And you can’t simply tell a person who is both environmentally and fiscally poor that they just need to finish school. Environmental poverty presents yet another battle of the mind that one must overcome in order to “see” something other than what is there and “believe” something greater than what everyone is telling him.

1. And probably the most important: just because you can have a baby doesn’t mean you should. Babies born out of wedlock… that means absent fathers and the studies show the lack of a male figure is an express train right to prison.  I agree. In part. Family planning for females is different from family planning for males. Family planning for a male? The occasional condom. Even on an episode of Good Times, James was extremely harsh toward a pregnant love interest of JJ’s. He was more concerned for his son’s future. Not at all concerned about his son taking any responsibility in the event the baby was his. So, we tell the young woman not to have babies out of wedlock. I am interested to see these studies that correlate the absent male figure with prison. I can name a few young males I know who left two-parent homes to go to prison. I can’t personally name one who is from a single parent (mother) home. Note: There are so many angles from which to look at a study. Is there a vast number of AA males in the prison system whose fathers were head of household before being killed? Before being jailed –wrongfully or otherwise? How many of the out-of-wedlock moms were being raised by their single fathers? How many single parent homes produce exceptionally, and I mean exceptionally bright, disciplined, successful young adults? 

Pay close attention to hip hop and rap culture-thug and reprehensible behavior I agree. But we should pay attention while having the necessary conversations with our young people and with their parents. Some people just don’t know what to do. And once they are told what to do, sometimes they just don’t know how. That’s where we come in, those of us who know how. We can’t effectively help our young if we’re afraid of them.  And they won’t “gravitate” towards the help if they know we really don’t care.