Don Lemon and the False-Causation Problem

As you may have already heard, CNN newsman Don Lemon caused quite an uproar in the black community this week when he went on the air to say that he not only agreed with Bill O'Reilly's racist, repugnant views on what's wrong, he thinks Papa Bear O'Reilly didn't go far enough. Saywhatnow?

There are so many things wrong with Lemon's position. Sooo many things. First, let me make it clear from the outset that I'm not saying that any criticism of the black community is 100% unwarranted or unfounded. What I AM saying is that this criticism is wrong. Lemon's basic problem boils down to the fact that he doesn't seem to fully grasp the issues of cause and effect.

So what did Don Lemon actually say?:

[playing clip]
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African- American family. 

LEMON: He's got a point. In fact, he's got more than a point. Bill?

O'REILLY: Raised without much structure, young black men often reject education and gravitate towards the street culture, drugs, hustling, gangs. Nobody forces them to do that, again, it is a personal decision.

LEMON: He is right about that, too. But in my estimation, he doesn't go far enough. Because black people, if you really want to fix the problem, here's just five things that you should think about doing. Here's number five, and if this doesn't apply to you, if you're not doing this, then it doesn't apply to you, I'm not talking to you.

Here's number five. Pull up your pants. Some people, a lot of them black, gave me flak for saying that recently on "The Wendy Williams Show."

If you're sagging, I mean -- I think it's your self-esteem that is sagging and who you are as a person it's sagging. Young people need to be taught respect and there are rules.

LEMON: Sagging pants, whether Justin Bieber or No-name Derek around the way, walking around with your ass and your underwear showing is not OK. In fact, it comes from prison when they take away belts from the prisoners so that they can't make a weapon. And then it evolved into which role a prisoner would have during male-on-male prison sex. The one with the really low pants is the submissive one. You get my point?

Number four now is the n-word. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY-Z, RAPPER: For our generation what we did was we took the word and we took the power out of that word.

CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN/ACTOR: We took this word, and we made it into poetry.


LEMON: I understand poetic license, but consider this: I hosted a special on the n-word, suggesting that black people stop using it and that entertainers stop deluding yourselves or themselves and others that you're somehow taking the word back.

By promoting the use of that word when it's not germane to the conversation, have you ever considered that you may be just perpetuating the stereotype the master intended acting like a nigger?

A lot of African-Americans took offense to that, too. I wonder if I gave the right advice, I really did. But confirmation came the very next day on my way home when I exited the subway in 125th Street in Harlem. This little kid in a school uniform no older than seven years old, he was crying his eyes out as he walked down the sidewalk with his mother.

I'm going to be honest here, she turned to me, and she said "I'm sick of you. You act like an old ass man, stop all that crying, nigger." Is that taking the word back? Think about that.

Now number three. Respect where you live. Start small by not dropping trash, littering in your own communities. I've lived in several predominantly white neighborhoods in my life, I rarely, if ever, witnessed people littering. I live in Harlem now, it's an historically black neighborhood, every single day I see adults and children dropping their trash on the ground when a garbage can is just feet away. Just being honest here.

Number two, finish school. You want to break the cycle of poverty? Stop telling kids they're acting white because they go to school or they speak proper English. A high school dropout makes on average $19,000 a year, a high school graduate makes $28,000 a year, a college graduate makes $51,000 a year. Over the course of a career, a college grad will make nearly $1 million more than a high school graduate. That's a lot of money.

And number one, and probably the most important, just because you can have a baby, it doesn't mean you should. Especially without planning for one or getting married first. More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock. That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison and the cycle continues. So, please, black folks, as I said if this doesn't apply to you, I'm not talking to you. Pay attention to and think about what has been presented in recent history as acceptable behavior. Pay close attention to the hip-hop and rap culture that many of you embrace. A culture that glorifies everything I just mentioned, thug and reprehensible behavior, a culture that is making a lot of people rich, just not you. And it's not going to. That said, though, the political right is not off the hook.
So some of that doesn't sound so bad, right? I mean, who thinks neighborhoods full of litter or fatherless kids or dropping out of high school is a good thing? However, here's my problem with what Don Lemon said: blame and causation. Welcome to my four-part analysis of what's wrong with Don Lemon's thinking. Grab a drink and get comfortable. This is going to be long.

Problem Number 1: Lemon/O'Reilly Appear to Believe That These Factors Are the Root Cause of Discrimination

Bill O'Reilly's point was discussing why white people fear black men and why Trayvon Martin was shot (and, prsumably, why he served to die). Don Lemon's point was, similarly, related to thoughts that had been plaguing him since the Zimmerman trial. Both men are essentially saying, "If black people weren't like this, white people wouldn't treat you differently or poorly." BEEEEEEEP! Wrong!

Even assuming that all blacks were daddyless gangbanger high school dropouts with horrible grammar and poor sartorial choices, discrimination and oppression of blacks is not a modern American construct. Heck, it didn't even begin just with slavery. If you don't believe me, pick up your Bible or even just read Othello. Fear of dark-skinned men goes back a long way. This has nothing to do with clothes, family structure, language, or status, and everything to do with skin color. Jim Crow laws did not come into existence because of hip-hop culture (a creation of the 1980s).

Fine, let's say you concede that discrimination against blacks has a long pervasive history around the globe, but you still posit for whatever reason that modern American racism against blacks has absolutely nothing to do with any holdovers from historical racism, and is purely a construct of the presentation of some modern blacks, that still leads to...

Problem Number 2: Lemon/O'Reilly Would Have You Believe That Discrimination Against Blacks Only Applies or Is Felt by Those Blacks Who Fit This "Profile" They Describe

I am an Ivy League-educated lawyer with a (tested) genius IQ. I wear suits or business-appropriate clothes during the work week and otherwise am appropriately dressed for the occasion (sorry, I wear yoga pants to The Little Gym and the grocery store; I didn't realize my skin required me to be dressed to the Nines at all hours and in all situations). I don't use the N-word, except in an academic sense, or maybe on the rare occasion when I say something like, "I'm tired of this House Nigger mentality perpetrated by people like Don Lemon." [though, I suppose, that's in an academic context as well]. My parents were married when I was born, and I've only ever been pregnant (and thus had children) while married. Heck, my husband is white. I speak English better than many people I know, regardless of color, and I have several grammar books on my bookshelves at home and work. I'm that chick who takes a red pen to Facebook. Most of my friends of any color are quite similar to me in these respects. In fact, most of my black friends in particular fit this mold. Yet, despite the fact that none of us fit any of this Lemon/O'Reilly profile, another thing we all have in common is that we've experienced discrimination and racism in our lifetimes--usually quite often.

Our "preferred" statuses has not prevented us from experiencing discrimination in the workplace, being followed or racially profiled while shopping, denied service, having women clutch their purses when we walk by [can't tell you how much that especially pisses me off when the woman clutching her purse in my presence is carrying a purse much cheaper than mine], treated as hostile when speaking in a calm voice, handled aggressively by law enforcement etc. Having a "preferred" status doesn't prevent racial gerrymandering and won't prevent us from feeling the effects of the now-gutted Voting Rights Act. Most racial profiling and discrimination applies equally to "hoodrats" and Rhodes Scholars.

Even if you were to somehow argue that those of us who don't fit, support, or even like this Lemon/O'Reilly profile must somehow answer for the crimes of our brethren, that gets us to...

Problem Number 3: Why Must Blacks Be Held to a Standard That No One Would Dare to Apply to Any Other Race or Group?

Just like any other social or racial group, there are many types of black people with varying backgrounds, beliefs, and opinions. Why are blacks the only group held to this crazy standard where every single apple from Macintosh to Fuji in this gigantic barrel must bear the rot of a few of the rotting Granny Smiths on the bottom?

I will give Don Lemon his statistic (verified by Poitifact as the ONLY fact he stated in his long monologue) that 72% of black children are born out of wedlock. However, this does not mean [and Politifact called Lemon's conclusion a stretch] that this also correlates to 72% of black children having no male influence in their lives and/or no morals. But what about the 68% of Native American children born under the same circumstances? Minus some extreme racists, I don't think I've ever heard anyone, Native American or otherwise, argue that Native American children deserve any discrimination they receive because most of their moms weren't married to their dads when they were born. Heck, when's the last time you've even heard of anyone racially profiling our tribal brothers and sisters?

Don Lemon also makes a huge stink about blacks glorifying hip-hop gangsta culture through dress and use of the N-word. But who is it that really glorifies gangsta culture? Suburban white kids. A May 2005 statistic from the Wall Street Journal stated that 60% of all hip-hop music was purchased by whites. A 2009 Times article regarding the decline in sales of hip-hop music interviewed industry insiders who opined that a huge part of the decline was attributable to the fact that the suburban whites who made up the majority of hip-hop consumers were "no longer fooled" by artists claiming street cred while flashing obvious signs of wealth.

Truly, for many white teens, black gangsta culture is the fantasy. However, for many (not all, and not even certainly most) black teens, the gangsta elements of hip-hop [which, by the way, one would have to be completely ignorant to argue is the entirety of hip-hop] are a reality.

Blaming Trayvon Martin's clothes or taste in music for his death is absolutely ridiculous. My sister-in-law and I have had many conversations about this since the verdict. The sad reality, which we both realize, is that had Trayvon instead been my white nephew, dressed in the same outfit, displaying the same behaviors, he would still be alive. He never would have been profiled. He never would have been shot. And if, by chance, he had been shot (ha!), his taste in music or any behavioral issues never would have been on trial. My nephew, the victim, would not have been tested for the presence in marijuana in his system, nor would that or become the main focus of the MURDER trial of the man who killed him [while, ironically, the aggressive behaviors and legal problems--all related to aggression--of his accuser were ruled inadmissible]. Meanwhile, my hypothetical son--despite his biracial heritage and accomplished parents--would be exactly in the same position as Trayvon Martin. THIS is what President Obama meant when he said that he could have been Trayvon. And anyone who acts as though that statement isn't true is living in a fantasy world. My family members and friends experience this every day, regardless of how they are dressed. Well, my black family members do anyway. My white family members have never been called "thugs" when wearing hoodies in the rain.

But I digress... where are the white leaders calling for their suburban youth to stop glorifying hip-hop gangsta culture? Minus when the NRA tries to point fingers in other directions, where are the white leaders blaming music and clothing for the Aurora shooter? Oh wait... I forgot... whites don't need "leaders" to speak for a community. They ARE the community. Something else that Lemon/O'Reilly seem to forget.

Statistically, most meth users are white men between the ages of 18 and 25, and in terms of percentage, the group holding the biggest percentage of meth users are Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders. A November 7, 2011 Times article details research and statistics proving that, despite the higher incarceration rates for blacks, whites are more likely to abuse drugs. In fact, blacks were less likely than any group to develop substance abuse disorders. Yet, despite these statistics, Lemon/O'Reilly would have you believe that blacks and blacks alone are treated differently because of drugs [yes, I realize O'Reilly made this point, not Lemon; but since Lemon endorsed everything O'Reilly said and even argued he should have gone further, he has, by inference, also adopted this position].

Okay, well what about the drop-out rates for blacks? Well, a January 2013 study published by the Department of Education, focusing on the 2010-11 school year  showed that while whites and Asians graduated at a higher rate than blacks, Hispanics, and Natives, in most states (and overall nationally), the disparity in graduation (on time) rates was approximately 20%. The actual dropout rate is closer. Whites have a dropout rate of 2.3%, blacks 5.5%, Hispanics 5.0%, Asians 0.9%, and Natives 6.7%. Native American/American Eskimos have a higher dropout rate than blacks, and the Hispanic dropout rate is fairly close to that of blacks, yet I hear no one (who isn't completely racist) making an argument in favor of sanctioned discrimination against those groups.

And why, Lemon/O'Reilly, must the 94.5% of blacks who do not drop out of school suffer discrimination because some white people (are entitled to?) assume that we are all in that 5.5%? And if this is somehow okay in your world, then why can we not similarly hold the 97.7% of whites accountable for the 2.3% who dropout?

Even if you don't like the education statistic, let's look at another circumstance where one might draw statistical (bigoted) assumptions about whites. White men are overwhelmingly (almost, but not quite, exclusively) more likely than any other group to be serial killers. Am I then allowed to treat every white man I meet as though he's a potential serial killer [sorry, Pop Culture Dad! I'm sleeping with one eye open tonight!]? Oh, I'm not? Then why is it okay to treat every black man as a potential criminal, just because black men are more likely to be incarcerated?

Which leads us back to...

Problem Number 4: Causation, Causation, Causation

I'm not saying there aren't problems within the black community that need to be addressed. I'm not saying that we shouldn't encourage the best of our youth. What I am saying is that even if every point raised by Lemon/O'Reilly somehow magically *poof* disappeared tomorrow, discrimination against and racial profiling of blacks would not go away. Mainly, because these symptoms of a larger societal problem are by no means the cause. Neither Lemon nor O'Reilly has actually addressed the real changes we need.

Instead of focusing on the high school dropout rate or the lesser percentage of black students who graduate on time, why not focus on the disparity in the quality of public school education? Is anyone really surprised that less students graduate in an environment where there are more students per teacher, the books are old and outdated, and there are fewer computers to be found? Are we really blaming the victims for not operating well within a broken system? Oh... apparently we are.

Instead of focusing on teaching our sons and brothers that is is not okay for him to dress down EVER, even though it's perfectly fine for all of his white friends, why don't we instead focus on teaching white people not to judge young black boys by a different standard? Why view one boy as a physical threat when the only thing different about him is the color of his skin/coarseness of his hair?

Instead of deciding for our entire community whether and when it is appropriate to use the N-word [which, by the way, most of us do not], why not just make it clear from the outset that it is NOT up to anyone outside of the group to determine what labels people within a group choose to call each other in a non-hostile way? As a friend pointed out the other day, there are some friends she can call "bitch" like its their first name, and others who, maybe if you did that even once a month in the most loving way, would want to cut you. If you aren't close enough to someone that you know where and when to draw certain lines with them, then perhaps you should maybe.... um... I don't know... don't call them anything without their permission? Don't worry about what some black people decide to call themselves or each other. Just know that you can't say it--just like I know there are some "reclaimed" words of groups of which I am not a member, which I would NEVER say without permission, and even then only to and around the person who gave me permission. Why do you need that word anyway? Do you not realize what is seriously wrong with a person who claims some sort of hurt at not being able use a derogatory name for a group to which s/he does not belong??

Similarly, why the hell is Don Lemon giving Bill O'Reilly to say anything about the black community? As Sherri Shepherd said today:
I don't want to give Bill O'Reilly a license to say anything, because he's never been a young black man growing up in the situations that a lot of them grow up in.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of whites (Bill O'Reilly especially) who refuse to have an honest look at their own behaviors, fears, and prejudices and deal with them in a meaningful way that does not involve blaming the victims. And there are far too many blacks like Don Lemon and Charles Barkley who are all too happy to give them that pass.

Here's the problem, though: We can't make any systematic changes without the majority/ruling class. Women's rights didn't happen simply because women wanted it. It happened because there were men who supported us. Slavery wasn't abolished simply because blacks wanted to be free; it happened because there were whites who were also willing to fight for our right to freedom. We are in a new Civil Rights Era. People like Bill O'Reilly and Don Lemon can continue to be on the wrong side of history, or they can get off their asses and take a look at the REAL causes of discrimination and what needs to be done to fix it.

Black people can clean our own house, sure. But first, we need white people to clean theirs. We can't be in this together, if the blame for centuries of prejudice falls on us alone.

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