The Spectacle Blog

Race on Race on Race

By on 7.29.13 | 5:36PM

Since the closing of the George Zimmerman trial, everyone and their mother has had an opinion on everything from the verdict itself to race relations in general. And over the past week, many in the political commentariat have chosen to focus on the black community.

First, on last week's O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly gave a "Talking Points Memo" in which he criticized black leaders like President Obama, Al Sharpton, and others for having "no clue at all about how to solve problems within the black community." O'Reilly proceeded to give some "straight talk" about violence, drugs, and poverty -- all of which he argued result from the disintegration of the black family unit. It's this root cause that O'Reilly claimed black leaders aren't adequately addressing.

The next day, Chris Hayes at the ever-so-insightful MSNBC called O'Reilly's segment a "super racist rant" that was supposedly factually off-base. A few days later, Hayes doubled-down and compared O'Reilly to the neo-Nazi character in American History X, playing a clip from the movie.

Then over the weekend, Don Lemon of CNN, himself a black man, argued that O'Reilly's comments didn't "go far enough." In his own segment, Lemon provided five suggestions for how young black males can better respect themselves, including refraining from using the n-word and from wearing sagging pants. 

Predictably, Lemon drew much criticism, with many calling him an "Uncle Tom" and other similar slurs. In a follow-up show defending his suggestions, Lemon welcomed a panel of three others. Interestingly enough, journalist Michael Skolnik -- who was the only non-black member on the panel -- attacked Lemon for sounding "like a conservative preacher" and told Lemon he was "disappointed" in him.

Fortunately, Larry Elder, a conservative talk-show host and one of the other black panelists, provided some historical perspective:

People like Walter Williams and Tom Sowell [both black] for fifty years have been telling you this is about bad public policy and bad fiscal policy. Between 1890 and 1940, if you look at the census record, a black kid was slightly more likely to be born within a nuclear, intact family than a white kid. What happened? Lyndon Johnson launched a "War on Poverty" in 1965 with the best of intentions, and the number of children born outside of wedlock went from 25% to 75%.

Elder continued with more conclusive statistics.

Lemon hosted another panel with two other minority commentators, and all three were in general agreement when Lemon said, "These are things that I said yesterday that my mom taught me in kindergarten, that parents tell their kids in kindergarten: Dress nicely, speak well, speak appropriately." Lemon also called attention to some of the baseless and superficial flack he had gotten over his initial remarks and cited all the other segments he had done over the past few weeks: "Did I not have those conversations on the air about privilege and about racism and about profiling and about having been profiled?"

Yet the reputable Buzzfeed wasn't convinced. This morning, they posted a piece on the "failure of respectability politics." In it, the writer claimed that people like Lemon are advocating for failed views that are "patronizing and pointless": "What respectability politics assume, though, is that any bad outcome for black people is the fault of and can only be solved by black people."

Never mind that Lemon and his fellow panelists specifically qualified their statements by saying that criticizing aspects of the black community and criticizing the structural racism in America are not mutually exclusive.

In any case, I wonder whether Chris Hayes thinks Don Lemon should also be compared to neo-Nazis.

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