Bear with me: I’ll get to Don Lemon eventually.
In a mature, rational, respectful democracy with an objective and competent news media, difficult and contentious issues would be thoughtfully debated with open minds and fearless honesty, without the toxic influence of rigid ideologies, partisan loyalties, group identification, or biases. The objectives: reach the truth, identify problems, begin solving them.
This process is difficult under the best of circumstances, and in the United States, circa 2013, it is nearly impossible on any issue, and dangerous on the issue of race, with both the media and elected officials actively seeking to exacerbate racial divisions and misconceptions. A recent poll suggests that the perception of racial divisions in America has worsened by 25% since Barack Obama was elected President, following decades of steady improvement. Why is this? There are many reasons, but the cynical pandering to misconceptions in the black community is one major suspect.
President Obama, had he been fair and responsible, might have used his remarks about the George Zimmerman trial to point out that neither the incident itself nor the verdict of the jury were relevant to race issues, or created by a “stand your ground” law that has been a lightning rod for accusations of racism in the justice system. Instead, he talked about how he “understood,” and apparently agreed with, an interpretation of the events based on past African-American experiences with racism. This was irresponsible and wrong. It was as much an endorsement of irrationality, ignorance and bias as it would be to explain that current day racists see blacks through the prism, “those sets of experiences” in Obama’s words, of their region’s history of culturally acceptable slavery, and we have to respect their views as a result. The President has not, as would be a far more justifiable statement, explained that opponents of same-sex marriage are not bigots, but see the issue through the ” sets of experiences” of their religious upbringing. Serial rapists may also see women through the prism of their childhood abuse—those are rather damaging “sets of experiences”— at the hands of their mothers.
There are always powerful reasons why people have hatreds and biases, and reasons why hatreds and biases cripple their ability to interpret reality and act responsibly. We can all understand that, but it doesn’t justify distorting the facts. Blacks are not inferior to any other race, no matter what the “prism” says. Gay marriage poses no harm to society, and gays deserve the same rights as anyone else, and the Bible doesn’t change those facts. Rape victims are not responsible for the misogyny of rapists, no matter how their distorted thinking came to be.
And the acquittal of George Zimmerman was not evidence of rampant white racism, regardless of the African-American experience. The President had a duty to say that. He had a duty to say, “I understand, but you are wrong on the facts.” He did not. Instead, he encouraged and supported a distorted and biased narrative that is harming race relations and respect for the justice system, and far too many in the news media—which is to say, anyone in the media who is stooping to this—are trying to continue the process. For example, Abbe Smith, in the Washington Post this weekend, had an article on a topic I have discussed here more than once: the challenge of a defense attorney representing a guilty and heinous client. It was an excellent piece, but the Post headline writers and editors unconscionably and unethically decided to pander to the city’s predominantly black population’s bias by publishing it under this:
“What motivates a lawyer to defend
a Tsarnaev, a Castro or a Zimmerman?”
Tsarnaev: a terrorist killer who targeted innocents with hidden bombs. Castro: a monstrous kidnapper, rapist and abuser. By no measure does George Zimmerman, who broke no laws, belong in their company, which is properly the Stygian domain of Jeffrey Daumer, James Earl Ray and Ted Bundy. Yet a major U.S. newspaper, the Washington Post, aware of the black community’s misconception, decided to cater to it rather than do its part to correct it.
The results of this are obvious every day. In Philadelphia, Trayvon Martin’s mother provoked cheers from an all-black audience when she said…
“No prom for Trayvon. No high school graduation for Trayvon. No college for Trayvon. No grandkids coming from Trayvon, all because of a law, a law that has prevented the person who shot and killed my son to be held accountable and to pay for his awful crime.”
The President can talk about why African Americans see the death of Martin this way, but there is no question at all that her statement is just flat out wrong on the facts and the law. As Ann Althouse wrote,
“That’s terribly sad, but what law? George Zimmerman was acquitted because of the due process law that requires the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and I don’t think Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton means to attack that law. There’s something sickening about seeing this poor woman wheeled about in her tragedy to mouth words of attack on the Stand Your Ground law that had nothing to do with Zimmerman’s acquittal. Subjectively, perhaps Ms. Fulton gets satisfaction, but those who are using her should be identified, shamed, and denounced.”
They should be “identified, shamed, and denounced” no less aggressively than leaders who ally themselves with them. This is officially sanctioned bias and ignorance, creating officially approved hate.
Not everyone is driven by group identification, ideological agendas and political cynicism; there are some heroes on this devastating and disheartening ethics train wreck. In the wake of President Obama’s divisive remarks, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly spit into the wind with a bold “talking point” on his Fox News show, saying in part, after quoting the President’s passage about “sets of experiences”:
“…young black men commit homicides at a rate 10 times greater than whites and Hispanics combined. When presented with damning evidence like that, and like the mini-holocaust in Chicago where hundreds of African-Americans are murdered each year the civil rights industry looks the other way or makes excuses. They blame guns, poor education, lack of jobs, rarely do they define the problem accurately. So here it is. The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African-American family. Right now about 73 percent of all black babies are born out of wedlock. That drives poverty. And the lack of involved fathers leads to young boys growing up resentful and unsupervised. When was the last time you saw a public service ad telling young black girls to avoid becoming pregnant? Has President Obama done such an ad? How about Jackson or Sharpton? Has the Congressional Black Caucus demanded an ad like that? …White people don’t force black people to have babies out of wedlock. That’s a personal decision; a decision that has devastated millions of children and led to disaster both socially and economically. So raised without much structure, young black men often reject education and gravitate towards the street culture, drugs, hustling, gangs. Nobody forces them to do that; again, it is a personal decision…And then there is the drug situation. Go to Detroit and ask anyone living on the south side of the eight-mile road what destroyed their city? They will tell you narcotics. They know addiction leads to crime and debasement. But what do the race hustlers and limousine liberals yell about? The number of black men in prison for selling drugs. Oh, it’s so unfair. It’s a nonviolent crime and blacks are targeted…The solution to the epidemic of violent crime in poor black neighborhoods is to actively discourage pregnancies out of marriage, to impose strict discipline in the public schools, including mandatory student uniforms, and to create a zero tolerance policy for gun and drug crimes imposing harsh mandatory prison time on the offenders. And finally, challenging the entertainment industry to stop peddling garbage. Hey listen up you greed heads, if a kid can’t speak proper English, uses the “f” word in every sentence…that child will never, never be able to compete in the marketplace of America… never. And it has nothing to do with slavery. It has everything to do with you Hollywood people and you derelict parents. You’re the ones hurting these vulnerable children….You want a conversation, you got it. You want a better situation for blacks, give them a chance to revive their neighborhoods and culture…It is now time for the African-American leadership, including President Obama to stop the nonsense. Walk away from the world of victimization and grievance and lead the way out of this mess.”
You do not have to admire O’Reilly to appreciate that this is a far more honest and productive statement to spark a discussion about the problems of race than anything Barack Obama said. But O’Reilly worked for Fox, and he is perceived as far Right conservative (incorrectly) and an unrepentant blow-hard (correctly), so his substantive commentary was immediately attacked by MSNBC’s Al Sharpton and others as racist. That’s the way to encourage honest debate, Al. Then incredibly, CNN’s Don Lemon—young, black, progressive and even gay—endorsed O’Reilly’s observations on the air:
“He’s got a point. In fact, he’s got more than a point. But in my estimation, he doesn’t go far enough. Because black people, if you really want to fix the problem, here’s just five things that you should think about doing. Here’s number five, and if this doesn’t apply to you, if you’re not doing this, then it doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you. Here’s number five. Pull up your pants….if you’re sagging, I mean — I think it’s your self-esteem that is sagging and who you are as a person it’s sagging. Young people need to be taught respect and there are rules. Number four now is the n-word…. I understand poetic license, but consider this: I hosted a special on the n-word, suggesting that black people stop using it and that entertainers stop deluding yourselves or themselves and others that you’re somehow taking the word back. By promoting the use of that word when it’s not germane to the conversation, have you ever considered that you may be just perpetuating the stereotype the master intended acting like a nigger?…
“Now number three. Respect where you live. Start small by not dropping trash, littering in your own communities. I’ve lived in several predominantly white neighborhoods in my life, I rarely, if ever, witnessed people littering. I live in Harlem now, it’s an historically black neighborhood, every single day I see adults and children dropping their trash on the ground when a garbage can is just feet away. Just being honest here.
“Number two, finish school. You want to break the cycle of poverty? Stop telling kids they’re acting white because they go to school or they speak proper English. A high school dropout makes on average $19,000 a year, a high school graduate makes $28,000 a year, a college graduate makes $51,000 a year. Over the course of a career, a college grad will make nearly $1 million more than a high school graduate. That’s a lot of money.
“And number one, and probably the most important, just because you can have a baby, it doesn’t mean you should. Especially without planning for one or getting married first. More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock. That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison and the cycle continues. So, please, black folks, as I said if this doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you. Pay attention to and think about what has been presented in recent history as acceptable behavior. Pay close attention to the hip-hop and rap culture that many of you embrace. A culture that glorifies everything I just mentioned, thug and reprehensible behavior, a culture that is making a lot of people rich, just not you. And it’s not going to…”
This is how serious public policy and social issues should be engaged in the media, in the Congress, in the public square, and across the dinner table: fearlessly, honestly, without hesitation to agree in part or in whole with a political or ideological adversary when he has made valid points. This is what a President intent upon solving problems rather than using them to appeal to narrow political constituencies would do. In an interview with the New York Times, Obama flatly announced that “racial tensions won’t get better.” Not the way he is approaching them, they won’t. Don Lemon, however is on the right track, or would be if he wasn’t just a humble CNN talking head, now being vilified by the Left and the race-hustlers.
In a 1960 address to the national Urban League, Martin Luther King wisely called on the black community to “rise to the point of self criticism.” Few of his followers in the civil rights movement have shown the courage and integrity to follow Dr. King’s advice; even the President of the United States, who should have nothing to fear but not doing what is best for his country, won’t follow it. Don Lemon, however, has the courage, and does.
Don Lemon for President.