I have to admit that among the lowest depths of misery, in my humble view, would be having my own people turn against me to the point of wanting to see my demise.
Sure, black people don’t all have to stick together, or even believe the same things, but it is important to some of us that we represent black people in a positive and upstanding way.
I cringed – and hollered – when Raven Symone told Oprah Winfrey last year that she’s not African-American. I was stunned into silence, and annoyed. The one thing that most black people agree on is that it’s not at all cool to deny your blackness.
If Ms. Symone doesn’t know where in the world her ancestry comes from, then I would suggest that she break off a piece of that check she’s getting from The View and do a DNA test. It’s not rocket science.
The truth is that most black people in America do not know what part of Africa their ancestors come from. And the truth is also that during the Middle Passage and afterward, blacks from different parts of West Africa married and intermingled, thus ensuring that today’s “African-Americans” have blood mixed with various tribes.
And then there was the comment on The View, where Ms. Symone serves as one of several hosts, that she would never hire someone with a black sounding name. Well, Condoleezza, don’t expect to ever be hired by Ms. Symone! And while we are on that, what kind of name is “Raven”? Oh, maybe we should ask Oprah, or Taraji.
What kind of thing is that to say on national TV? Even if you thought it, and many of us have, is that something you really want to put out there on national TV? Really, Ms. Symone?
It’s no wonder, then, that she has enraged black people across America.
Speaking of Don Lemon, I don’t even know where to begin with Brother Man. But one thing for sure, at least he knows he’s black.
I secretly feel sorry for Don Lemon, while sometimes being one of his biggest critics.
Now, Mr. Lemon is of my ilk, meaning that he is also a journalist. But every time he opens his mouth, I am floored. Most of the time, all I can do is gasp – then laugh. I actually loved the comment he made about the smell of marijuana at the Ferguson protest. When I say that I “loved” it, I mean that it provided great laughter for more than a week, and who can’t use a good laugh? Seriously, though …
Mr. Lemon has pissed people off to no end with some of his comments, antics, his lack of sensitivity and his apparent ignorance as to how his words will play to the wider audience, and in particular, the black audience. Maybe it’s not his job to care. But it is his job to be objective and less editorial.
And still, there is something endearing about him.
There is also a petition to remove Mr. Lemon from CNN, but not for what he says about black people, per se, but just what he says.
I am a true believer in freedom of speech. But I also believe that such a privilege comes with responsibility and that you must be prepared for the fallout when you put controversial words out in the public space.
Black people continue to be under fire in their own country. That is a fact. What we need are role models who understand that and who understand the deep hurt some black people feel about the treatment of their forefathers, and the skepticism that many black people have against the “establishment.” That is not to say that we are not successful and brilliant and a wonderful people – we are in spite of everything.
What many of us long for is to be included seriously in the conversation, to be taken seriously and to be respected. Black Americans have brought more to this country than any other racially ethnic group.
And while black people embrace their differences, there are unwritten rules that we adhere to. The first is that we don’t air our dirty laundry in public. The second is that denying your blackness is an absolute no-no. Denial equates to disrespecting the black people throughout the generations who fought hard for us to have the right to vote, the right to own homes, the right to good education, the right to use whatever bathroom we feel like.
So, Ms. Symone, like you said, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Check yourself, girl.
Alison Bethel McKenzie firstname.lastname@example.org is a veteran newspaper editor and former executive director of the International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria.