Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Can "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" Teach Us About Don Lemon and the Politics of Black Respectability?

To much condemnation by "Black Twitter" and other social media, CNN's Don Lemon said that black people could improve their lot in life by following his suggestions and guidelines about their personal comportment and behavior.

Given that the context and prompt for his advice was the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, Lemon's suggestions are especially noxious because they proceed from an assumption that Trayvon was somehow responsible for his own murder.

As an African-American, Lemon is recycling the politics of "black respectability", what is a very old tradition in black life and social thought. He is dead center in the centuries-long tradition of black political thought.

But, he has no appreciation for its nuances. 

Lemon's argument, that black folks should pick up litter, pull up their pants, and stop making babies everywhere out of wedlock, reveals a piss poor understanding of the relationship between life chances, institutional racism, political economy, and race in post civil rights America. Lemon is also factually challenged.

Not all of us are properly trained social scientists. That does not render one mute in speaking about issues of American politics, society, and public/private life.

But, given his national and high-profile position, I would expect a bit more from Don Lemon. Maybe he should read a few books and articles by serious people such as William Julius Wilson, Sudhir Venkatesh, Cathy Cohen, Mary Patillo, John Jackson, Joseph Stiglitz, Michelle Alexander, Elijah Anderson, Mario Small, and others before offering up his half-processed folksy wisdom from the barbershop tailor made for public (white) consumption about black poverty, race, and upward mobility? I dare to dream.

Alas, Don Lemon is part of a long tradition of public scolding by African-Americans against "deviants" in their own community, one which recycles white racism under the guise of "black tough love". History suggests that Don Lemon has much good company in this very profitable public performance: a book is no doubt forthcoming; there will be a speaking tour too.

Don Lemon proudly proclaimed that he is going to be an Uncle Tom. Who am I to interfere with a man's dreams? As a practical matter, and after hearing his suggestions about how to fix the black community and its problems through a national program against sagging pants and littering, I was left wondering how to apply Don Lemon's wisdom in a practical way that could help uplift the urban denizen's he cares so much about, while also providing some talking points and wisdom for the African-American community at large.

Politics is popular culture. Popular culture is politics.

By implication, I love the show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There are few shows as insightful and witty in the Age of Obama and the Great Recession. Perhaps, it could be a guide for translating Don Lemon's wisdom into a set of practical tools and guidelines for the "urban black?"

In one of its best episodes, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia offered up a guide for creating emotional vulnerability in women as a means of seducing them. Appropriately called the "D.E.N.N.I.S. SYSTEM", this model offers up a nice platform going forward for Don Lemon's ideas and political philosophy in practice.

Thus, what could the "L.E.M.O.N. SYSTEM" potentially look like? I suggest the following:

L--legitimate a belief that black people are defective 
E--engage and support white conservatives in helping you
M--marginalize the majority of black people doing the right thing
O--obfuscate and excuse-make for institutional racism
N--never talk about white privilege

What is your version of the L.E.M.O.N. system for helping the unwashed, unkempt, ghetto underclass, Negro masses to improve themselves?


Lewis Orne said...

Him co-signing Bill O'Reilly still boggles the mind.. I really don't get it, is Lemon trying to get some fox news viewers to boost his ratings ? CNN already got rid of Soledad and Roland. Lemon selling his soul to keep those nice suits and a steady gig ? lol

inyourmind said...

the so-called Civil Rights Industry cannot target and attack
the 21st century System of White Privilege because they not
sophisticated enough or powerful enough and instead try to go after some
fat boy named George Zimmerman and attack a few Black people like
Cornell West and Don Lemon. That is proof positive that their whole
industry is crumbling before our eyes as we speak.


They're not smart enough to become more sophisticated or more powerful either...,

chauncey devega said...

Interesting idea. Do tell me about this "civil rights industry" if you would.

chauncey devega said...

You see if negroes did not smoke they wouldn't get shot by the police.

Black Sci Fi said...


Man, as a 60 year old AA, I was confidant, as a young adult, that race relations in the USA would be a lot further along by now. I guess the Reconstruction Era Black Americans thought the same thing until Jim Crow, Rosewood, 1919 Chicago and Tulsa happened.

Anyone looking at the systematic (prison, drugs, genocidal poverty, sub standard education, genocidal unemployment, etc) destruction of Black America couldn't’t possibly say that “things are better than they used to be”. It’s simply a lie told for reasons I’ve yet to understand. Perhaps, as a people, we’re too afraid to look at the real carnage because it might be too terrifying. But, it exists.

The comparison between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin are more than analogous to the systemic losses we are and have been experiencing as black Americans within the criminal justice system.
The crime is that we are still "allowing" ourselves to be stopped and frisked and put away for the high crime of smoking pot in a 3-strikes law enforcement state. That is the crime. These things are, in fact, a signal that time and history are looping around to destroy another generation of our people. And, this is happening in an era of a Black President (commander of the greatest army on the planet) and Attorney General heading our criminal justice system. White America doesn't respect us, or the offices our representitives hold.

The Civil Rights Era victories are being rolled back in spirit and in fact. We are being further erased as a contributing group to America’s success every day by the MSM and the Texas school book editors who enjoy national distribution. Black History is as passe’ a part of the modern public school curriculum as cursive writing.
No history = no possibility for respect in the present or future.

Don Lemon is not speaking to Black people. He's speaking to the demographic that fits CNN. Don Lemon is only a reminder to us all that we need our own media. Period. Our participation in movies, TV and commercials are a careful business calculation to maximize profit by targeting a specific demographic group. Our politics also reflects that reality. Sex (Weiner) and Racism (Palin) sell BIG. Diversity is aimed at a relativity small demographic of Chevy Volt, Big Mac and Nike apparel buyers.

We clearly can't have any expectations that "white privilege" will somehow subside and rejoice in the real multiculturalism that is America. We are living in a time of backlash (Palin, Tea Party, et al) to the very idea of a diverse society. They preach the “New Majority Minority” mantra on a daily basis not as a statement of fact but as a call to arms. A poor economy only exaggerates racial tensions that were subject to “charitable”benign neglect in better times.

We need our own media…and focused resources...NOW

Lewis Orne said...

Exactly and learn how to dress better, if black folks had only known it was this simple 60 years ago....

Miles_Ellison said...

Why is anyone not in a Dunkin' Donuts or an airport with a dead smart phone battery watching CNN? Part of the problem is that anyone is listening to Don Lemon.

It doesn't really matter what your "comportment" or "behavior" is. You are a threat if you're black. Thus, you would be considered dangerous even when in possession of non-lethal items like Skittles and iced tea (drug paraphernalia that turns black teenagers into superhuman fighting machines that can only be stopped with bullets) or books (tools that, when used properly, may make a black person President). Can't have that, can we?

chauncey devega said...

Great comment. What would that media look like? With the low cost of entry to online resources, podcasting, youtube, googlevideo, etc. why isn't there a resurgent black counter-public?

Could it be that folks, especially the younger folks would rather watch coonery and buffoonery and have come to equate that with "blackness?"

chauncey devega said...

I think the key to economic uplift of black communities really is the littering angle. We could start a whole economic cooperative around recycling for example!

chauncey devega said...

There is a huge, huge whole in Lemon's faulty logic. You are hinting around it. Time to drive it home.

chauncey devega said...

Great stuff. You need to get some folks down with you, do research on the grant funding out there, and hustle!

Miles_Ellison said...

That's exactly it.