I remember when I first caught wind of CNN anchor Don Lemon’s antics. I was living with my mother and younger brother. My mom and I were getting ready for work and talking current events. She brought to my attention Don’s five suggestions to help fix the black and brown community: pull your pants up, stop calling each other "nigga," don’t litter, finish school, and stop having babies.
I’m from Paterson, N.J., one of the most crime-infested cities in the tri-state area. We’ve seen family and friends fall victim to the ills of the ghetto our whole life. I saw my first dead body when I was six. I walked out of Roberto Clemente Elementary on Rosa Parks Blvd. (of all places), and he was just lying there, stabbed multiple times, bloody, with the murder weapon still on the scene. When I was eight, I saw my uncle in a bathtub full of blood as my grandmother tended to his wounds after he tore a ligament in his finger while jumping a barb wire fence running from the narcs. When I was in high school, my mother almost got caught in the crossfire over a dice game on her way to her second job. Two of my childhood friends were deported before they turned 25. We're used to this way of life—it's normal.
Growing up that way is no different than being in a war zone. You get numb to pain. You get used to failing. You get scared of success because you haven't been prepared for it. This is something Mr. Lemon has also talked about, but he's done so at a remove from reality. He and other perpetrators of the fraud have even given it a clever lil’ name: “Hood Disease.” Don's prescribed cure is simple: "Get out of the hood."
As if it were that easy.
Never mind the invention of these urban zones (a.k.a. the ghetto) as a tool of segregation. Never mind the racially biased drug laws, or the centuries of oppression, or the conditioning of self-hate. Never mind the foundation of white supremacy that this “great” country was built on, or the numerous other factors that have created the issues so many minorities face. According to Lemon, those things aren’t important. As he sees it, we’re the ones holding ourselves back.
He’s no different than Bill O’Reilly, blaming the victim instead of the criminal, and he’s now making a fuss about the word “nigga” because of Justin Bieber's been caught using it. On Tom Joyner's radio show, Lemon said:
Some people are saying Justin Bieber is racist. Is he? I don't know. But I do know that this is the danger of the proliferation of the use of the n-word. People hear it in music. They hear it on the street. They hear it almost everywhere and they subliminally become immune. Very frequently I hear young people of all ages, in public, who can barely get through a sentence without using the word... Clearly Justin Bieber, a young man who by the way, has immersed himself in black, hip hop culture should not be saying the n-word. So the question is, if you want people like Justin Bieber to stop using it and to stop making excuses for using it, shouldn’t you do the same?
As Gawker’s Jason Parham stated, “Lemon so quickly shifts the moral burden of racism onto us—we made Justin do this!—the victims and targets of teenage Bieber's remarks.” Don Lemon has a platform to help the situation, but he and so many others, like the new NAACP, are here for attention and nothing more. They do more damage than good.
There are definitely ways that we can help our situation. We can't give in to the temptation of fast money, we must be smarter financially, etc. But that’s very difficult when your family structure isn’t there, when you have to walk over dope fiends to get to an overcrowded school, when you have no food or electricity because your father is in jail and your mother is either on drugs or never home because she works three jobs.
Why do we have to work thrice as hard to reach the American dream? How is that fair? Why should we stop talking about racism, the fuel that drives this country? And something Don himself is tired of talking about, apparently. It’s not as blatant as it was back in the days of the Civil Rights Movement but there are institutional systems in place that stack the cards against us. Lemon doesn't address these things; instead, he tells us to stop complaining and get over it.
I’m not here to give answers. I don’t have them. The racial dynamic in America is way more complicated than that, as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his piece for The Atlantic titled "The Case for Reparations," which touches on topics like corrupt real estate, the destruction of the black family, and how America's past still haunts us (even as we, as a country, won't speak about it). Coates writes:
Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, 'Never again.' But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.
We’ve come a long way, but the fact remains that black and brown people still fill America’s prisons and are slaughtered by the same police that are supposed to protect us. We are treated as second-class citizens. These are the issues affecting our community.
Lemon's opinion, this respectability politics, is dangerous because of the audience he caters to. He chooses to use his platform to put trivial things in the spotlight while sweeping the real issues under the rug. For someone in Lemon's position to not shed light on important matters is detrimental to the struggle. The problems we face can't be solved by not calling each other "nigga" or pulling our pants up. Don's point-of-view represents the majority of White America and a portion of the black and brown upper-middle class. Yes, he's had folks like Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, on his show but those types of guests are few and far in between. Instead, he would rather grab headlines by feeding into the same propaganda/vile perpetuated by Fox News.
Since the beginning of this nation, we have been fighting to be treated as equals. While his take on things creates discourse, whatever he thinks he's doing isn't going to change our status in America.
In the meantime, I'm going to sag my pants and keep Pac'n.
Angel Diaz is a Complex staff writer who suffers from Hood Disease. Follow him on Twitter.