I recently got angry at CNN's Don Lemon because of the ignorant way he chose to voice a few comments. Lemon took it upon himself to underline ways that the black community can improve itself. His suggestions were that we stop wearing baggy pants, using the "N" word, dropping out of school and having children out of wedlock. They were good points, but the way he phrased them came across as a patronizing lecture that talked down to African Americans because the majority of us don't act in those manners. I felt that he could have used the power of his pulpit to have a nuanced discussion about the problems in the black community rather than sounding as ignorant as Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, whose stereotypes about African Americans Lemon pretty much repeated.
However, in the midst of my raging anger, a thought kept running throughout my mind: For all the arguments and discussions about whether the struggle for LGBT equality is comparable to the African-American civil rights movement, there are times when very few notice the similarities. And this was one of those times.
Lemon's condescending lecture does nothing for the African-American community. Sagging pants and poor English are not indigenous to the African-American community. Children born out of wedlock and high drop-out rates are problems that are not centered solely in the African-American community. If there are going to be serious discussions about problems facing the black community, they don't need to start with a pundit wagging his finger while sequestered behind a desk. There need to be discussions about why things like out-of-wedlock births are happening. The discussions should have more context by mentioning socioeconomic factors like unemployment and not having access to good education and health care, and systematic racism so ingrained that it practically works by itself. And viable solutions need to be voiced. All that Lemon (and O'Reilly, for that matter) actually did was exacerbate racism against African Americans by allowing those with biases against black folks to flood the comment boards with vulgar displays of gloating.
They both reminded me of how the religious right exacerbates homophobia against the LGBT community. So many religious-right groups and leaders, from Tony Perkins and Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council to Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel, are quick to point out Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics that talk about increased health risks in the LGBT community as proof that homosexuality is a "dangerous" lifestyle. However, these so-called defenders of truth and morality always seem to deliberately omit the fact that the CDC says that homophobia and its negative effects on the LGBT community, not the so-called gay lifestyle, are clearly to blame for these health risks. I've always believed that they omit this simple fact because it destroys their argument. They avoid having a nuanced discussion about being gay because they want to dehumanize gay people.
Certainly this is not what Lemon was trying to do to the African-American community, but that is in fact what he did. Lemon dehumanized the African-American community by reducing it to stereotypes, much like the religious right does to the LGBT community. It's something that strikes at the heart of my soul because of my dual identity as a black gay man. It was something that Mr. Lemon maybe should have realized, given that he is also a black gay man.
That fact hurt me the most, because I once looked up to Lemon as a role model. With O'Reilly, such nonsense is to be expected. He is nothing more than a high-maintenance Morton Downey Jr. whose rage and bluster conceal the fact that he just that: rage and bluster without a semblance of nuance or integrity, so his analyses of the arguments of the day are as soggy and weak as a bag of cotton candy caught in a rainstorm. Instead of agreeing with O'Reilly, Lemon should have aspired to give his audience something more intelligent.
Lemon's patronizing sermon is definitely something that both the LGBT community and the African-American community should keep in mind instead of being tricked into playing another bout of "oppression Olympics." Let's not allow ourselves to be fooled by segments of society that see our communities as either children needing to be lectured or undesirables. And let's not allow ourselves to be the pawns of pundits who see us as commodities to increase their ratings.
There is an unfortunate mentality in America that looks at both the black community and the gay community as entities to be talked about rather than talked to and commodities to be used and abused like tissue paper. To defeat this mentality, both communities must do all they can to not only solve their problems but wrest control of the conversation from those who would seek to define us in ugly and simplistic terms, because they simply don't have our best interests at heart.