Selling out. The idiomatic pejorative expression, or some derivative of it, has been a part of the vernacular of black culture since slave ships first docked on American soil. Simply put, a sellout describes someone who speaks against their own culture, namely the black culture, to appease a more mainstream audience for popularity or monetary gain.
As black consciousness enters into a season of revival due to the Black Lives Movement and the audacious and unjust actions of police, the sellout has become a more prevalent voice. Almost daily, a prominent member of the black community says something that raises eyebrows of the socially conscious. Some are obvious throwbacks to the “house negro” description provided by Malcolm X but others seem to be uncharacteristic words coming from someone who appeared to be woke. Forever the eternal optimist, I can’t help but wonder if these acts of coonery are deliberate or the unfortunate result of social framing.
Recently, CNN anchor, Don Lemon has come under fire for suggesting that Donald Trump deserves “credit” for releasing a press release from his campaign that finally puts the birther issue to a rest by admitting President Obama was born in America. The website Media Matters posted a truncated quote of Don Lemon’s words on Twitter along with a video of the broadcast. Lemon responded to the tweet suggesting that he was taken out of context.
This isn’t the first time that Don Lemon been accused of selling out. In 2013, Lemon went on a tirade about certain elements of black culture shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin. In the video, Lemon not only criticizes the black community for sagging pants and broken families, he actually airs clips of Fox News Channel commentator, Bill O’Reilly to further cement his claims.
Let’s talk about social framing. While providing Don Lemon a TON of benefit of doubt, I’m going to assume that he didn’t consider the potential fallout for discussing the problems with the black community in front of a diverse CNN audience. As my grandmother used to say, “there’s a time and place for everything, even the truth.”
Lemon, like other celebrities who speak out against the black community are forgetting a fundamental rule we were taught in childhood – what happens in my house, stays in my house!
Shortly after Lemon chastised black youth on his national show, his words were used against people who look like him by people who don’t. There is a faction of America who claims to not see race and believes that our country’s inability to enter into a post-racial climate is due to victims of racism refusing to stop talking about racism. When Don Lemon, Lil’Wayne, or other prominent black voices are not careful with their words, they are essentially arming detractors of the movement towards social justice with powerful speech that undermines our efforts. The black voices that speak to millions have a responsibility to ensure their words won’t be used against them and more importantly, us.
I’m not suggesting that we can’t talk about the problem or that we shouldn’t. However, I do think that we need to consider how we talk about our issues. For instance, the “pull your pants up” challenge is once again starting to gain momentum. An advocate of dressing properly myself, I appreciate the message but I detest the framing of the message. In one video, Malik King, draws a link between style of dress and police involvement. He equates sagging with police profiling by suggesting that if black men pulled their pants up they wouldn’t be targets for police activity. Sure, police will profile young black men who fit a certain visual criteria. However, this doesn’t make it right. The suggestion that young black men pull up their pants to avoid police harassment only provides credence to the notion that police are allowed to harass young men who are sagging their pants. The better public message is “pull up your pants because it looks ridiculous.” In private, as a community we can explain to our sons how stereotyping works so that we are not unwillingly feeding the other side’s agenda.
The concept I’m suggesting isn’t new. Tribal information dates back to the beginning of time when certain secrets, wisdom and knowledge were passed to those who had proven themselves worthy of the information. Simply put, everything ain’t for everybody.
Again, my optimism won’t allow me to believe that public figures like Don Lemon are just simply sell outs that have disconnected themselves from the communities that helped them attain their prominence. I firmly believe that ascension can cause amnesia. In this current propaganda war on racism and social injustice, we all have a responsibility to ensure that we express ourselves freely while considering the consequences of our words.
However, given Don Lemon’s track record of lashing out at his community, I could be wrong.