What Do Black Audiences Really Want From Don Lemon?
With his new book, the CNN anchor thinks he knows exactly how to reach them — by being who he’s always been
The first time I became aware of Don Lemon was on June 27, 2013, the day he agreed with Bill O’Reilly. Responding to remarks by President Obama about the recent murder of 17-year-old Travon Martin, O’Reilly had taken to his nightly show on Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, to argue that the “disintegration of the African-American family” is due to “violence” and “chaos” in Black communities. A few days later, on a segment of his CNN show he called “No Talking Points,” Lemon decided to re-play the tape from O’Reilly, a rant that MSNBC’s Chris Hayes had described as “super racist.” Lemon not only agreed with the Fox News host but took it a step further. He said on air that O’Reilly didn’t go far enough, and proceeded to provide five points for Black people to fix ourselves: 1. Pull up our pants. 2. Stop using the N-word. 3. Respect where you live and pick up your trash. 4. Finish school 5. Implement proper family planning.
The call to attention felt like a redux of Bill Cosby’s 2004 “Pound Cake” speech, which Adam Serwer has described as “excoriating the black poor for failing to live up to the promise of the civil rights movement.” But Lemon’s words hit differently. Unlike Cosby, Lemon was not saying this at an awards ceremony for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, but on national television. The year Lemon gave these pointers coincided with the beginning of Barack Obama’s second term in office, a historical event that inspired some to believe in a post-racial future, yet the murder of Trayvon Murder brought conversations about racial profiling to a new generation. But the shift in his public persona and politics has been so jarring that some, such as far-right political commentator Dinesh D’Souza, have asked, “What happened to the Don Lemon of 2013?”
He’s still there. But nowadays, we’re seeing a different side of Don Lemon, a side that in 2021 has delighted the same Black people he criticized eight years before. Don Lemon has become quite the star on social media, particularly in Black digital communities. The venom that Don Lemon has directed toward Donald Trump, as well as other far-right conservatives, has been…