Don Lemon says ‘tolerance’ isn’t enough to address racism: ‘See my humanity’
EXCLUSIVE: CNN Tonight host Don Lemon's new book "This Is The Fire" seeks to help Americans navigate through the nation's racially turbulent time
It is not unusual for CNN Tonight host Don Lemon to hold down the anchor chair with riveting conversations and panel discussion on varying topics to include all things politics and beyond. His current discussions about race, however, could be one of the most critical.
For decades, Americans have shied away from the conversation, and that could in part be the blame for where we are now as a country. However, times have changed, and now Lemon is leading the discussion with friends through his new book, which has become a bestseller across book lists. The book, “This Is The Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism” offers tips on how to navigate this racially turbulent time in America.
As we as a nation continue to have these conversations, Lemon cautioned about using the word ‘tolerance’ when addressing things like race and sexuality in America.
“I never really like the word tolerance, whether it’s for LGBTQ issues or whether it’s for issues concerning Black people or any sort of marginalized group, any sort of minority,” Lemon told theGrio in an exclusive interview. “I don’t want you to tolerate me. I want you to see my humanity. I want you to experience my humanity.”
Lemon believes his book will serve as a tool to arm Americans with the right vocabulary to engage in conversations on race and emerge from the discussions with greater clarity and appreciation of cultural uniqueness.
Don Lemon’s book is ripping the bandage off the old-festering wound that is racism and the centuries-old tensions wrought from it. The broadcast journalist said his hope for people who read the book is to, “start having conversations with friends who don’t just look like them or live in their neighborhoods or think like them.”
Lemon thinks the groundwork begins “in there personal life,” by beginning to learn “the history of this country, the true history and the accomplishments and the contributions of all people, not just mostly white people, because the country, as we know, very heavily built by slaves, free labor. There were many people who contributed to look at the Irish and the Italians. Everybody contributed.”
Don Lemon acknowledged the plight of Black America has never been fully addressed. “I think more than anything, the contribution of Africans and Black people, those contributions have been purposefully left out or purposely underplayed or downplayed. And I think we need to know the truth,” he said.
“If we did that, then we wouldn’t be operating on a place out of lies, and that may not lead to an insurrection on the Capitol built on a lie. And that may not lead people to feel that the country was built in their image and that they can control the laws and do whatever they need to do to be able to stay in power because this is their country only.”
The backdrop now for these race conversations with friends is happening in real-time in the midst of a deadly police force trial centered on the murder of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police last summer. Trial testimony shows Floyd died of low oxygen caused by former officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck and back for more than 9 minutes and 29 seconds, though it was previously believed to be 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
“After we had George Floyd and that summer of unrest in the summer of 2020, there were a lot of people reaching out to me saying, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I have never seen this. I didn’t realize it was this bad. How do I talk to my kids? How do I talk to my friends? I feel like I let my Black friends down and on and on and on,” Lemon recalled.
“And after answering a lot of them and being sort of perplexed, like you’ve been on this earth for how long and you didn’t realize that this was a thing, I decided to put it in book form.”
All of America is watching the Derek Chauvin trial, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana said of the trial, “The biggest thing I’m thinking about watching this trial is, is pain. The pain, of course, of George Floyd and his last minutes, the pain of his family, but the pain of the bystanders and a whole community that felt like there was nothing they can do.
“I know that there we’re revisiting that hurt right now as we go through this process. But I also think there’s hope and it’s not only the hope that justice will be served in this trial, but also the hope that this horrible killing that happened and all of the pain that [it] unleashed is leading to this reckoning around the country. Not that America saw this and that suddenly it’s going to get better, but that the conversations are different, that the policies will be different and out of that hope,” added Buttigieg.
“Not a naive hope, but I think a very serious hope of things improving in this country. I think that’s part of what the justice process is supposed to deliver, and we know that our justice system has not always been a system of justice. But this is a moment that I think is correctly forcing us to ask those questions in a way that we hope and pray is going to lead to real change.”
As one of few Black anchors on TV, Don Lemon said he finds that there is an expectation for him to lead discussions on race. “It’s a thing and it’s unfortunate that Black people, particularly Black people who are on television, have to be the conversation piece about issues when things come up,” he said, referencing past national stories like the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor and even Hurricane Katrina as examples.
Conversations about race are difficult as there remains pushback against solutions to racial inequities that have been proposed by Black activists and politicians, including issues around equal access to the ballot that has been a battle for African Americans for more than 50 years.
On the matter of voting rights and the new restrictive voting laws in Georgia and other Republican-controlled states, Lemon said, “it says that white supremacy dies hard. It says that people who are used to having the preeminent voice, who are used to having America, as they believe, shaped in their image [and] that they have the right to be able to hang onto that power and they will hang onto that power no matter what they have to do to do it.”
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