Don Lemon’s New Book Hopes to Guide America Through a Conversation About Race

What I say to my friends about racism
By Don Lemon

Only pages in the preface of “This is the fire”, the reader finds the author in tears. Recognizing the title of James Baldwin, the prologue is written as the author’s letter to his nephew following the assassination of George Floyd by police in 2020. “Watching this shocking video, I and every other Black I know saw the unjust ourselves, “recalls CNN anchor Don Lemon. “In real-time agony, I saw Billy Heid’s strange fruit hanging from the poplar. I had to close my door and cry. “

It is a moving moment, imbued with both the weight of history and the relativity of the present. Although this book is ostensibly aimed at his nieces and nephews, it is hard not to imagine Lemon speaking every phrase through a camera to an invisible audience of millions.

To the extent that we conduct a national dialogue about the race in the United States, Lemon is among those who host it. Perhaps the most prominent color person on cable news – anchor CNN coverage from 10 p.m. until midnight of the week – Lemon is, as a Mediaite columnist recently put it, the “light black” voice of the network. The cover of his race is intertwined with his personal identity: Lemoni testifies to his own wounds for the benefit of the viewer’s understanding, speaks tribal truths painfully apparent to black viewers but shocked some white viewers and urges the audience to continue as they walk of the basics and begs his viewers to believe their truth. This is the torturous work of the black journalist who works for the white media.

[ Read an excerpt from “This Is the Fire.” ]

“White brothers and sisters: pocket that I am not a racist! card. I do not want to hear about your black girlfriend in college or your Black Postman who bears fruit every Christmas, or about the Black comp and enlightened teacher who completely, like, rocked your world. It does not matter if you are racist or not racist or anti-racist. “Our society is racist,” Lemoni explained early on, clearly outraged.

Unbound by the limitations of the news cycle, “This Is the Fire” is Lemon’s attempt to maintain this debate about the fight. In the book, he gives a straightforward, historically supported examination of the racial divisions that plague our nation.

Lemon’s style will be familiar to anyone who reads the 2011 memoir, “Transparent,” or even to anyone who watches it regularly on CNN. He has written extensively on “This Is the Fire” in his own, easily recognizable voice and explores some of the most controversial issues of our time – including police shootings and Confederate monument battles – combining copies of his interviews. in the air with the kind of fully researched environment that is often absent from cable news.

Like his show, the book jumps in both content and tone. Departments exploring deep American history suddenly fall into modern anecdotes. Long Island pandemics are beginning to “reopen snail-like amber trials, extending one ship at a time to feel the moisture after a storm in early summer.” A few lines later, “Dr. Fauci appears without name or title. If you are a regular viewer, you know who he is.

Lemon is at its strongest when he looks back, combining the history of our nation with his own. His childhood in the Baton Rouge suburb offers the opening to explore the history of white supremacy and Louisiana black subjugation. The Hamptons house he shares with his fiancé Tim is said to explore Maude Terry’s efforts in the 1940s and ’50s to create a community of blacks along the Long Island waterfront. The tragic drowning of Leisa’s sister in 2018 gives way to one of the book’s saddest prose – “Losing a Brother is an Accurate, Local Anxiety, Losing a Reflective Self” – as Lemon explores objectification and commercialization of Black Death, from the postcards of the 1900s to the police shooting videos that play in a loop many nights in shows like his own.

“We need to know the objective truth of what happened, not the reflexively self-justified version of events advocated by the authorities involved and defended by law enforcement and conservatives,” Lemon wrote of the police killings. “At the same time, it is our responsibility to provide a framework, whether these images convey the same cold message as the bloody puddles published by Baton Rouge: Know your place, Black child, or it could be you.”

Lemon does not propose specific political or cultural changes – it is the journalist’s job to document the depth of the problem in great detail, not necessarily to provide the solution – but makes it clear that he believes the first step to changing our nation is a common understanding of it. our collective history. “It simply came to our notice then. “The moment we are in, as a nation and as individuals, was deliberately invented by people whose agenda had nothing to do with creating a better world,” he wrote early in the book.

It’s both direct in tone and obvious in content – the type of indifferent historical statement from a “light black” news anchor that might push some white viewers to hold on to their pearls even when Black viewers look at each other and comment. emotionally, I already knew that. “

As a matter of fact, Lemon is right: We have not arrived at this time, our “race problem” is deeply unsolved, by mistake. What remains unclear is whether white readers and viewers of Lemon will be willing to believe it.

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