Recently, Bill O’Reilly made the non-Fox News crowd look his way with an epic (and egregious) rant about what ails the “black community” in America. O’Reilly identified teenage pregnancies, absent fathers and lack of respect for authority as the reason that African Americans are poorer and more incarcerated than their white counterparts. He prescribed ads telling young black women not to get pregnant (seriously) and mandatory school uniforms in all public schools (or at least the ones in black neighborhoods).
We expect this kind of bloviating from O’Reilly, but what was surprising was that young, African American CNN anchor Don Lemon took O’Reilly’s side. Lemon gave five directives to the black community, which, like O’Reilly’s, were more style than substance. They were 1) pull your pants up, 2) stop using the n-word, 3) don’t litter, 4) finish school, 5) don’t have a baby until you are ready.
The last two are helpful, but Lemon, like O’Reilly, ignores that the odds, on average, are stacked against African Americans.
In response, hip-hop producer, philanthropist and activist Russell Simmons penned an open letter to Lemon, explaining much more accurately why life is harder for black Americans than for white Americans. Here are some choice excerpts (you can read the whole thing here):
I respect your courage on many other issues, but I can’t accept that you would single out black teenagers as the cause of their own demise because they don’t speak the King’s English or wear belts around their waistbands.
When this country closes 50 schools in black communities and continues to build more prisons, I know that young people see through the institutionalized bullsh*t that is laid out in front of them every single day of their lives.
If you want to tell the rest of America this weekend when you go back on CNN how we fix black America, tell them to re-start the “War on Poverty.” Tell them to end the failed “War on Drugs” that has cost this nation over one trillion dollars and unjustly incarcerated a generation of black men. Tell them to support the President’s plan for universal Pre-K, so no child enters elementary school having to play catch up with the other children who are fortunate enough to go to pre-school. Tell them make college affordable and obtainable for young students who come from low-income families. Tell them that the right to a healthy life should be universal and not just for the fortunate few. And lastly, tell them that young black men and women don’t just need “role models” or “mentors,” they need “sponsors” who are willing to offer them a job.
Lemon and O’Reilly are treating symptoms (some of which are simply a clash of cultural norms). Simmons, in that long paragraph I couldn’t help but quote all of, identifies the real issues that prevent racial equality in this country.