Tim Brown looks at the profiling that happens even to black men who are well-educated, well-respected and well-known, and thus respectfully disagrees with Don Lemon’s recent talking points.
Don Lemon has definitely further polarized the discussion of race in the United States. Recently he gave 5 talking points—5 things which he recommended black people do so they can be less racially stigmatized. The comments are good principles to live by. In fact, I myself did something similar, here, in the early wake of the impending verdict of the Zimmerman trial.
However, I’ve reversed my position on this. There are points of my previous argument that are still appropriate, such as how black men are criminalized by existence. They are immediately suspects and seen with mistrust by society at large, so it does make practical sense to take personal accountability to counter that. Yet, the recent movie release of Fruitvale Station should educate us all on why it’s more important for society at large to take accountability and change the association of black males with crime. I would encourage Don Lemon to view it.
Fruitvale Station is a dramatization of Oscar Grant’s last day of life prior to being shot to death by a police officer in Oakland, CA. Everyone should be able to empathize with Oscar in this story: he wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t public enemy number one. No, he was a regular young man engaging in regular young man activities. Sometimes that involves poor judgment, but that’s what youth is about…making mistakes we grow from as adults. No one can say how the arc of Oscar’s life would have gone because he was robbed of that opportunity.
Dr. Gates is tenured faculty at Harvard University and has close to celebrity pop status due to his work in African American studies. Yet, in 2009, when he accidentally locked himself out of his own house and tried to get back in, he was an ‘intruder’ such that he needed Presidential support. Let’s not overlook the key elements of this: he was trying to access HIS house, where his neighbors should all be familiar with the fact that he was a resident there. Dr. Gates lives in an affluent neighborhood (Cambridge) so there’s also a good chance he is a true minority, with very few black neighbors in that area. Yet he was deemed an intruder by an onlooker.
Much like Marc Lamont Hill looks like a cocaine dealer.
Don Lemon unfortunately took on the guise of patriarchal white America, which is famous for victim-blaming. Following the Obama script, he echoed just what it is that white America believes will make black America more mainstream and acceptable. Gates, Grant, Trayvon Martin were all guilty of fitting the narrative of being ‘suspicious’. Unfortunately for 2 of them, they lost their lives due to the fears of society at large. A Harvard professor is as far from saggy pants as one can get, but at the end of the day, he’s a black man, or the mascot of criminal activity.
In sum, a woman can dress provocatively. She can even walk the streets nude. That doesn’t give anyone the right to violate her. If we can understand that as a simple concept, then we can also understand the concept that even poor behavior is no reason for profiling and justified violence against black people or anyone for that matter. And with a large platform, Don Lemon should do more than echo the same personal accountability rhetoric, but also push the conversation to challenge the notion of what black skin represents. Because until that changes, then there will be continued catastrophes in khakis and in saggy jeans.