So, About Don Lemon, His Show “The N-Word,” And All The Things It Didn’t Accomplish In Our Conversation On Race
Did anybody catch Don Lemon and his The N-Word Show that aired on CNN?
If you haven’t seen the special report, which ran earlier this week, the black film site Shadow and Act has video links to the program. And If you haven’t already figured it out, it was a show about the etymology and linguistic use of the N-Word. Why was this an important topic to do a show on? Because white people are offended and confused. Out of all the other concerns in the country (most notably, the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act; the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial and its possible impact on Stand your Ground laws; and the gutting of the public school system) on the forefront of most black folks minds, I would bet 10 non-existent virtual bucks that the great majority of black people wouldn’t give a crap about talking about the “N-Word” if it wasn’t for white people’s curiosity. Hell, if not for white folks, the word would not exist. Funny how the white gaze works.
And surely by the set up, it was evident that this was not a discussion for us, but rather, a chance to explain ourselves. First guest was LeVar Burton. Right. I too wondered what he was doing on the panel. I mean, was he bringing book recommendations or something? And why wasn’t the Reading Rainbow theme song playing in the background as he spoke? But the mystery would be solved when Lemon cued the video and a clip from Roots came on, specifically the part where Kunta Kinte, played by a young Burton, was being whipped into submission by a white man until he answered to his new Massa-given name Toby. And then it made sense – sort of. What better way to illustrate the hurt and pain of the N-Word than the original use of the N-Word on the N-Word Show? I would like to have been a fly on the wall in that production meeting.
But it gets better: Lemon leads a panel in several groundbreaking discussions, like the great N-Word Vs Cr**ker ultimate showdown with the N-Word taking the gold medal in the Oppression Olympics; followed by the ever-so-popular deflection…er..I mean discussion on, “Well rappers say it, why can’t a 66-year-old white lady, who probably doesn’t know the difference between Snoop Dogg and Snoopy the Dog, say it?” My favorite question of the night was posed by Lemon himself: “Have you ever considered that you may be perpetuating the stereotype that massa intended?” Hey Lemon, have you ever considered that this show is a perpetuation of what massa intended?
Anyway, it is becoming clearer by the segment that Lemon, who is probably the last black person standing at CNN right now, is wasting no time in taking Soledad O’Brien’s spot as the number one source for futile racial discussions. But I get it. He is trying to make his mark while raising some sort of much-needed discussion on race on television (and yes, this is me really trying to give the brother the benefit of the doubt – unlike this Twitter user, whose comment Lemon read live in a follow-up interview about the program). He may not be the most informed person to do so, but he is what we’ve got.
However, I just feel like if he is serious about having this discussion, there is a certain way to have this conversation on race and have it be more effective. Whiteness needs to go under the microscope and examined much in the same ways that we do blackness. We have to talk about its roots and application throughout history. We have to talk about how whiteness is used as a tool of oppression. We have to talk about how various ethnic groups, who today are considered “white” were once excluded and ultimately how they gained admittance to the construct. We have to talk about the pathologies of whiteness; why so many of them are on welfare and why white males continue to have extraordinary numbers of suicides. What’s up with the brown and red hair bias in the community? Heck, we can even discuss the trivial superficial stuff too like, ‘What is it with white folks, stop lights and nose picking?’ And what’s the cultural significance of flip-flops, shorts and going jacket-less in the winter time? And why mayonnaise? And why is it okay for poor white folks call to themselves “white trash” affectionately, but a slur when others outside of the poor white community call them that? Of course, we understood full well why poor white people might call themselves “white trash,” because we’ve been taught to consider all of the political connotations and ironic context about a people who share the same socio-economic background. And yet, “N-Word” remains complicated.
Point is, whiteness needs to be seen and presented on television through the eyes of those folks, who by social construct, have been excluded from its privilege. And as long as we continue to cherry pick the experiences of people of color without that larger context of whiteness – and ultimately it’s normalization as the basis for which everything else is measured and judged – then all “discussions on race” are futile.