Why Debating and Befriending Tomi Lahren Isn’t Progress

The Black Lives Matter movement will gain nothing from Charlamagne tha God’s or Trevor Noah’s new friendship with Tomi Lahren.

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Complex Original

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For an entire week, the internet has been engaged in a heated debate over the wisdom of The Daily Show host Trevor Noah and radio personality Charlamagne tha God's decisions to buddy up to anti-Black Lives Matter internet personality Tomi Lahren. The buzz started after Lahren appeared on The Daily Show for a conversation with Noah and kicked into high gear after TMZ spotted her walking through the streets of New York City with Charlamagne. 

In the days since, both Charlamagne and Noah have taken to their respective platforms, and even the pages of The New York Times, to defend their engagement of Lahren as efforts to open dialog in a divided America and promote an exchange of ideas around racism, protest, and policing—Lahren's signature topics.

Despite their stated intentions, the Black Lives Matter movement will gain nothing from Charlamagne or Noah’s new friendship with Lahren. And while the two may believe that they're setting a good example of diplomacy and civilized debate in these divisive times, their respective approaches to Lahren betray a fundamental misunderstanding of debate and diplomacy at best and, at worst, a profound understanding of the current media climate, one in which broadcasters are rewarded with ratings, followers, and attention based on their ability to craft conflict.

Despite their stated intentions, the Black Lives Matter movement will gain nothing from Charlamagne tha God’s or Trevor Noah’s new friendship with “conservative” Internet sensation Tomi Lahren. 

Regarding the former, let’s assume that Charlamagne and Noah—neither of whom are leaders of black organizations—actually reached out to Lahren in attempts at building bridges between black Americans and the people who aren’t sure if we should be killed by the police. If that’s the case, then they simply missed the mark.

Robert's Rules of Order aside, a productive debate usually requires two or more individuals committed to affirmative and negative positions on a topic. Those individuals then usually take turns articulating their arguments, providing support for them, and rebutting the argument made on the other side. The result is a match-up of ideas to be weighed according to their merits. This, of course, wasn’t what happened during Noah’s controversial Daily Show interview with Lahren. Instead, Noah interrogated Lahren’s most controversial statements while the social media star either deflected or answered his questions with questions.

Perhaps the standout moment of the interview was Noah’s direct appeal to Lahren, “What is the right way for a black person to get attention in America?” Lahren’s answer: “Why would you take out your perceived oppression of black people on our national anthem and flag?” Noah followed up by asking the question repeatedly to no avail. It was the part of the interview that launched countless headlines about him “destroying” her, but lost in it all was any real exchange over the form, function, and goals of black protest, leaving the matter ultimately unsettled.

Noah and Charlamagne have identified more than substantive debate as their goals in reaching out to Lauren, however. Both have also expressed their desire to show by example the benefits of finding commonality and disagreeing without being disagreeable. To that end, both men met privately with Lahren during her visit to New York City for the Daily Show taping.

"Do you want diplomacy or do you want division," Charlamagne asked on his show after the meeting with Lahren. "I'm talking to Tomi because I care about the rhetoric that comes out of her mouth, because she has influence.”

After his meeting with Lahren, Noah published an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “Let’s Not Be Divided. Divided People Are Easier to Rule.” He argued, “We can be unwavering in our commitment to racial equality while still breaking bread with the same racist people who’ve oppressed us. I know it can be done because I had no choice but to do it, and it is the reason I am where I am today.”

What is the end goal of sending Lahren cupcakes as Noah's team reportedly did?

To be sure, black Americans don’t need a lesson on compromise. Compromises by our ancestors, even on the matter of their very humanity and freedom, are also why Noah is where he is today—legally considered five-fifths a human being in this country, able to host a television show and safely have drinks with a white woman like Lahren. Regarding diplomacy at this point in time, however, one can only wonder to what end. What is the end goal of sending Lahren cupcakes as Noah's team reportedly did?

Diplomacy with hard-line conservatives dead set against his existence as a black president got Barack Obama a compromised health care law that will likely be repealed by a man who rose to power by questioning Obama's citizenship. For his efforts to earn a seat at the “table of brotherhood,” Martin Luther King, Jr. was rewarded with a Voting Rights Act that has since been gutted and a bullet to the head.

Given that history, it would seem that black Americans, the Black Lives Matter movement, and progressives in this country don't need to focus on breaking bread with the likes of Tomi Lahren; we need to build independent power, to have our own table and bake our own damn bread. Then, and perhaps only then, can we actually engage in a debate over the future of racial equity in this country instead of a hostage negotiation.

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