Some reading this may actually believe I am late with this. They may say "this Bill O'Reilly comment about Sylvia's and iced tea happened weeks ago." Yes, I know. My reply to that is that in addition to being a poet, rapper, actor, and motivational speaker, I am also a scholar. Scholars do research. Any real academician worth his grain of salt does his research before running his mouth. So as much as I wanted to speak about the conversation between Bill O'Reilly and Juan Williams on the Radio Factor, I vowed to wait until I could make an informed decision.
For those who may have forgotten, Bill O'Reilly got into the media hot seat for comments he made about his experience going to a black restaurant with the Reverend Al Sharpton. He said that there were no black people cussing and swearing about their iced tea. These edited (audio) comments were also paraded across CNN and outlets like Media Matters to further smear Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Williams.
I, like you, subsequently received a plethora of e-mails about how racist Bill O'Reilly is, etc. I was tempted to get on this blog and join the chorus but I vowed that out of respect to my readers, I would not speak on the issue until I read or heard the transcript. I am glad that I waited.
Anyone who actually took 40 minutes to sit and listen to the show (listen by clicking here) would have found that Bill O'Reilly used the Sylvia's example to show that those who may have stereotypes about Blacks need to realize that we conduct our business like anyone else and that most of us do not like negative rap music. He spent the entire segment celebrating people like Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman and others. He even stated that he thought democratic Senator Barack Obama is a good role model for kids. No Fox commentator has ever endorsed a democrat like that (though not for president).
Bill also stated quite clearly that it is the white controlled media that is putting out these negative stereotypes of black people. His overall message is that in America, we do not celebrate those actors and musicians who do not glorify violence, sex, and drugs. How can anyone argue with that? We argue with it by being misinformed and using other people's reputations to build our propaganda machine rather than dealing with actual facts. This culminated in Syracuse scholar Boyce Watkins calling Juan Williams a "Happy Negro" though Williams has been a champion of black causes, lives in a black neighborhood, and is married to a black woman. I guess I'm a "happy negro" too. Yowsa, yowsa, yowsa.
Now of course Bill O'Reilly said some things that I disagreed with, particularly about blacks starting to "think for themselves." Overall though, on the issues of black representation in the media and the negative images that come from some of our rappers and are broadcast by white media at our expense, I agree with Bill O'Reilly. The beauty of not being offered a record deal, being rejected by Def Poetry Jam 5 times, and not being embraced by many of these people who criticize rap but don't support positive artists like me is that I can say whatever I want. I have no constituency to appeal to. I just deal with facts.
The fact of the matter is that anyone who speaks critically of Black America gets deemed a sellout if they are Black and a racist if they are of another race. We lament over how Will, Denzel and others cannot be role models because theyâ€™re too polished. I guess that means that we must watch "Flavor of Love" and "We can do Better" to get the "real" Black America. This has to stop. We have to be our biggest critics and look at our predicament honestly. In Bill Cosby's absence from TV, we went from"A Different World" to "College Hill." Anyone see a problem here? Bill and Camilla Cosby, for example, have given more money to black colleges than any couple I know. Most people who called him a sellout or traitor have made little to no financial contribution to our schools or other projects but talk a good game. Many of our scholars who criticize Black-on-Black criticism are merely enablers who excuse the ignorance that prevails in communities they no longer live in.
Hey, if you don't like what I'm saying, call me a sellout. Tell me I forgot where I came from, etc. etc. I've seen how this story ends but I am more concerned with the future of our children than I am with critique from my peers who have never walked in my shoes and have not traveled to 16 countries and experienced the negative consequences of the stereotypes we so righteously defend. At some point Black America, we have to stop celebrating our ignorance and start celebrating intelligence. We have to start celebrating college dropins instead of dropouts. Though everyone does not have to be married, we need to still recognize it as a valid institution desirable for Blacks. Let us celebrate artists who got it right the first time like Will Smith and not wait for the reformed pimp, drug dealer, or gang banger to "see the light". We should celebrate both and not the latter. Let's get it together and practice some tough love. We can do better, no pun intended. Our children are watching us.