CNN anchor Don Lemon backed up his criticisms of the African-American community on Sunday, telling guest LZ Granderson he was reclaiming the label of “Uncle Tom,” classically used to describe a Black man who is subservient to whites.
“I’m taking that word back,” Lemon said to Granderson. “I’m being called an ‘Uncle Tom’ so much, I’m taking that word back. I’m gonna get the ‘Uncle Tom’ award.”
Lemon made the remarks in an allusion to the online criticism he drew for his Saturday commentary saying Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly “doesn’t go far enough” in chiding African-Americans, before suggesting that young Black males should stop wearing sagging pants.
“What is wrong with telling people to dress appropriately?” Lemon asked Granderson and conservative commentator Ana Navarro on Sunday. “These are things that I said [Saturday] that my mom taught me in kindergarten, that parents tell their kids in kindergarten. Dress nicely, speak well, speak appropriately.”
Lemon’s commentary was derided across social media, with the mocking #DonLemonLogicgaining traction. Lemon also addressed the controversy on Twitter, writing that it was not about racism, but “about bettering oneself in spite of. ie, abused woman at some point has to leave abuser.”
Lemon also re-posted an encouraging message from Fox News host Geraldo Rivera, who was himself derided in March 2012 for blaming the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on his choice to wear a hooded sweatshirt the night he was pursued, shot and killed by former neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges on July 13, 2013.
“I was amazed when I retweeted it that I got so much Twitter hate,” Navarro told Lemon about the furor surrounding his remarks on Saturday. “There’s people who call you in to schools, Don, and call you in to go speak to youth, and to groups, and tell them how you succeed. We are here on this panel — three minorities, two African-Americans, one Latino — who have succeeded. There’s advice to be given. Success is not going to be reached by not speaking English correctly, though I do have an accent and I do butcher it now and then.”
Lemon also cited his own past coverage of the Zimmerman trial, as well as a stand-alone special program he hosted concerning the use of the “N-word” in American culture, and alluding to his July 20 argument with conservative Ben Ferguson regarding white privilege.
“Did I not have those conversations on the air about privilege and about racism and about profiling and about having been profiled?” Lemon asked his guests.
“You absolutely did,” Navarro affirmed, before misidentifying who the defendant was in that trial. “I think the Trayvon Martin trial is an opportunity for us to have the deep discussions we need to have. Let’s not talk about each other, let’s talk to each other and also within our own groups.”
Granderson told Lemon that, while has taught his son that the use of terms like the “N-word” had to be viewed through different contexts, he did not pretend that there were not ramifications to using it in a social setting.
“You’re not gonna get hired for a high-power position job, you likely are not gonna be accepted at some prestigious university,” Granderson said. “I severely doubt you’d be able to get a decent date with anyone worth loving if you spend your entire time dropping the ‘N-word’ and you can’t keep your hands up.”