On Don Lemon’s List: Breaking Down His Tough Black Love


First, this blog post is not to curry favor with conservative, extremely right-wing white folks who don’t like African Americans, but who suddenly are pretending to take interest in “black community issues” so they can practice their Strange White Supremacist Hoodoo Rituals in public, instead of the privacy of their own homes.

I’m talking to you, Bill O’ Reilly.

Go sit your annoying, obnoxious self down somewhere and stop pretending you really cared about the ills of the African American community when you recently went on a tirade saying that we had serious problems, including the “drug situation,” the disintegration of the black family,” and “gangsta culture.”

You’re using your fake concern about “black on black crime” to attack black people—as you’ve attacked us in the past—and with friends like you, what black person really needs the White Citizens Council of Jackson, Mississippi or the Ku Klux Klan?

Thank you, Mr. O’ Reilly, take care, and be blessed.

Now that I have established the ground rules, let me begin to explain the mysterious ways of Brother Don Lemon.

Lemon is black and Lemon is gay. That would seem to be a recipe for the most liberal black man. Instead, he was on the TV recently, going off on black folks all in public, in a seemingly willy-nilly fashion, and aligning himself with the aforementioned Social Plague That Is Bill O’ Reilly.

Then, Lemon listed his top five issues with black people. We’ll come back to those in a second.

And then, black folks started getting upset online, in the blogs, on the comment threads of blogs, on Twitter and on Facebook, wondering whether Don Lemon was an Uncle Tom Race Traitor, whether he was off medication for a psychiatric disorder (possibly connected with his being an Uncle Tom) or whether he needed to be on medication for an as yet diagnosed psychiatric disorder (that had Uncle Tom tendencies), and so on or so forth.

Like a lot of middle- and upper-middle class black folks Don Lemon is just fed up with what is happening in this community, and so, he had one too many cups of coffee (probably), and snapped on TV. And I must say, I agree with much of his frustration.  But how much on his list really contributes to crime in the black community? Let’s examine it.

1) Don Lemon thinks black men need to forgo sagging pants.

I agree.

Many black folks know where that “sagging pants” fashion comes from: prison culture. (Brothers inside aren’t allowed belts.) We are constantly having discussions about how to keep our young black boys out of the prison industrial complex, but then, we think it’s perfectly okay to let our young black boys walk around in a style made fashionable by the prison industrial complex?

I’m confused, mightily.

But what I will say is, there is no demonstrable link between a boy who walks around looking like he’s got on a man-sized, full, dirty diaper beneath his pants and criminal behavior.  The demonstrable link is between having a job and not having a job, when he shows up to the job interview looking “besides like a fool,” in the words of my Grandma Florence.

Surely, I know that we should look past the exterior to the inside. Surely, some black boys use their attire as a temporary disguise to express their personalities. Some of them have teachers in high school or professors in college who will look past their dress to the brilliant young men inside—but some of them won’t.

Many young black men don’t have role models to guide them and tell them how to dress for a job interview or a campus visit for college, because nowadays, a middle- or upper-middle class black elder is attacked for trying to teach a poor or working class black kid about the realities outside of his own mind.

Nowadays, we’re supposed to keep quiet, instead of training these kids for mainstream American society. So we do remain quiet, and we revert to an “I’ve got mine, you get yours mentality.” And then, we middle- and upper-middle class black folks get criticized for not reaching back. It’s a racial catch-22.

2) Don Lemon says black men need to finish school.

I agree.

People who graduate high school have more access to jobs and make more money than people who don’t. Everyone knows that—but what Don Lemon should have done was exhibit some sensitivity and discussed the erosion of the public school system in America, and how, if one is poor and black one is more likely to attend a substandard school that is not getting the funds that a school in a majority white neighborhood will.

And why? Well, there are a number of factors, but one that many of us never hear discussed is the issue of property taxes. Live in a more affluent neighborhood? Property taxes provide more money per child for education, which means lower student to teacher ratio, better trained teachers, better facilities, and more after school enrichment programs. Live in an urban poor—read black—neighborhood? Then there’s lots less money per child for education. Is that fair? No it’s not, and studies have shown that poorer schools have a lower retention rate for students.

In addition, there is a demonstrable link between lack of high school education and criminal activity; if you can’t get a job, you’re going to have to make money some kind of way and crime is usually it.

3) Don Lemon says black folks need to stop using the n-word.

I agree.

Let’s face it, black folks of all classes have and will continue to use the n-word in private. I use it in private, I admit it, and that’s that.

But for the life of me, I don’t understand why reasonably sane black folks of all educational levels are putting forth valuable energy which could be used to solve a host of other community ills just to defend the right of RayRay, Pookie and Them or Famous For A Day Fill-In-The-Blank Rappers to stand on a street corner or in a music video and publicly abuse each other with a term slaveholding white folks invented to debase us.

However, there is no demonstrable link between using the n-word and criminal activity.

4) Don Lemon says black folks need to respect where they live and don’t litter.

I agree.

Littering is bad. Black folks shouldn’t do it. Everyone should respect the neighborhood in which s/he resides–but have you been to a poor white neighborhood lately? I have. They litter, too. And I teach at a majority white university and every class period I have to remind the kids to pick up their trash before they leave because their mothers don’t work there.

And is Lemon saying that if you recycle your soda cans in your neighborhood, you won’t pick up a gun and kill somebody? Because there is no demonstrable link between littering and criminal activity, to my knowledge.

5) Don Lemon says black women need to stop having children out of wedlock and black people should marry before having children.

I’m not sure what I feel about this one.

Statistics show that unmarried mothers are more likely to be poor, which means that unmarried mothers must work more hours and they don’t have as much time to spend with their children. That would be an argument against out of wedlock parenthood and for married parenthood.  But Don Lemon didn’t mention poverty. He discussed marriage from a “values” point of view, as if there is something shameful about unmarried mothers. What are we, on the second verse of Diana Ross and The Supremes’ “Love Child?”

One can have a family without marriage, and one should not be ashamed if one’s parents never married. We’ve all seen many examples of happy, unwed families. (And this is coming from a happily married woman.)

I also think that the term “fatherless sons” is very insulting to apply to children born out of wedlock. Simply because a father and mother don’t marry doesn’t negate them as parents and doesn’t mean a child is “fatherless.” What I believe is more important than the legal bond of marriage is a strong bond between parent and child and that parents are committed to the work of child rearing and nurturing.  That should be the starting point, because while marriage should be a choice, abandoning your child and never looking back should not be.

And yes, there is a demonstrable link between broken families and criminal behavior, but it is dangerous to reduce that link to simply “no father in the home” without mentioning the issues of poverty, which we know is a contributing factor to crime. And what would have helped Lemon’s case is if he mentioned how there could be ways to help single mothers facing poverty, instead of shaming them by implying that every out-of-wedlock child was on a fast track to the penitentiary.

Lemon’s list constitutes individual problems in the black community—very real problems—but taken together, they don’t constitute any sort of unified solution to black-on-black crime.  And I must say that the biggest problems that I see are his issues of logic, timing, and class insensitivity.

Only a few days ago, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the killing of Trayvon Martin.  It was insensitive and didn’t make much sense for Don Lemon to pretend that, coming so close after the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, his remarks would not have been taken in the context of the Trayvon Martin tragedy and as a characterization of this dead black teenage boy. And do I need to tell y’all that Lemon made himself look absolutely ridiculous by even mentioning the name of Bill O’Reilly?

In addition, Lemon clearly is of a higher socio-economic status, and if middle- and upper-middle class black folks want to be critical of pathological behavior in the black community—which is our right as African Americans—we need to be very clear on what behavior simply embarrasses us because of class sensitivity (and makes us want to invent a whole new racial category for Bourgie Negroes) and what behavior is actually criminal. In these times, it does not help to make silly, stupid, or even trashy behavior a crime when talking about the very real issue of, say, the black-on-black murder rate in Chicago.

I do believe that Lemon really does care about other black people and he really is concerned and thus, his diatribe. Many black people are concerned. Unfortunately, Lemon is a symptom of what has been happening for far too long: a failure to connect between poor black folks and middle- and upper-middle class African Americans, and an unwillingness to hear and tell the truth. And it is time for the truth—the entire truth. Lemon’s List wasn’t it, but perhaps now he has lead the charge for more black folks of his socio-economic class to be honest and say what they think that truth might be, without fear.

One thought on “On Don Lemon’s List: Breaking Down His Tough Black Love

  1. Once again, reading your words makes me happy. You say it all so clearly and put it out there for all of us to muse about. Living on this lala land island sometimes gets me down. You uplift and make me want to do more to bring equality and love to others of all persuasions.
    Thank you again, Tim

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