A friend (Valencia Roner) called me one night to ask if I watch “The O’Reilly Factor”. I said “No, I don’t watch silly, racist television programs.” She then informed me that I might want to watch this particular episode.
Why? Because I was the topic of conversation….for the entire show. I set the DVR and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning to watch what had been recorded. Valencia was right. They were showing images of my CNN appearances, and playing my comments repeatedly, like Sports Center Highlights. I’ve never seen so many guests asked to comment about someone else’s comments.
The kicker was watching Juan Williams and Bill O’Reilly congratulate each other like brothers for allegedly winning the “smear campaign” placed upon them by CNN. I listened to O’Reilly tell the world that CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, Mediamatters.org and other news organizations were all corrupt, but not him. Williams even wrote a piece about me in Time Magazine, in addition to making several radio and TV appearances to complain about my words. During the show, I honestly thought Williams was going to cry. This brought back memories, since I remember making a lot of conservatives cry in college. My mother said I shouldn’t make grown men cry, and I felt bad.
I was asked on CNN (and other shows) about Bill O’Reilly’s racist remarks about Sylvia’s, a black restaurant in Harlem. In his comments, O’Reilly said that he could not get over the fact that the people were civil and well-behaved. He commended black people for finally learning to “think for themselves” and was relieved that there was no one in the restaurant saying “mf-er I want more ice tea.” (Good thing no one was really thirsty!).
O’Reilly tried to argue that his comments were meant to compliment the black community. He said that they were meant to defy stereotypes. As humbly and naive as a school girl, he argued that he was only intending to shed light on how racial stereotypes are bad for our society. Like the movie “Transformers”, “America’s Educated Redneck”, Bill O’Reilly had morphed himself into Martin Luther King Jr.
On CNN, I essentially explained that anyone who thought Bill O’Reilly was suddenly a reformed racist who’d seen the light has been getting high with Bobby and Whitney too long. I’ve been on this man’s show before, and he has consistently demeaned, degraded and devalued everything about black culture he could get his hands on (remember when he said that the Katrina victims would not have been stranded on rooftops if they’d chosen to get an education?) I also mentioned that I was unimpressed with Juan Williams’ agreement and defense of O’Reilly. Seeing Williams sitting there congratulating O’Reilly for his bigotry reminded me of the Negro in the white suit defending “massa” at all costs. His attitudes were consistent with his latest and most terrible book, which does nothing but blast black culture and black people, as if we are the sole causes of socioeconomic inequality.
Therefore, I could only use terms I felt appropriate. I defined Williams as “The Happy Negro”. On CNN, I compared O’Reilly’s use of Williams to Hugh Hefner hiring a stripper to tell him that he’s not a sexist. Williams was irate after hearing my words. In other words, “The Happy Negro” was no longer happy.
I am not sure how smart or dumb Williams is (I have 3 times more education than him, but I guess he is of at least average intelligence). I hope he has enough sense to know that he is being used by a man who has consistently and reliably shown himself to be an enemy of black people.
I have, through my books “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about College” and “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” consistently attacked problems in the black community. I have spoken to millions of African-Americans about the value of getting an education and managing their money. I support the black family and even proposed to my future spouse in front of millions of people, in order to give black men the courage to express love for our beautiful black women. I wish I could tell you how many times I argued with CNN producers to cover the Jena 6 story long before it was popular to do so. So, everything that Juan Williams might say about advancing the community has been consistently on my radar screen.
But here is where we differ.
I am very hard on the black community about improving our plight. But I am also man enough to challenge the white community, the media, universities, corporations and other American institutions for their role in creating racial inequality. Racism is a disease that lies within the fabric of nearly every American institution. So, any conversation about racial inequality that does not include White America’s flaws and roles in the process is ridiculous, misguided and counter productive. In mathematics, I learned that you cannot solve a problem without working with both sides of the equation. The functions and systems of that equation are at least as important as the individual parameters. In other words, the systems in America play a powerful role in the creation of incentives, opportunities and outcomes of the individual.
If a young lady is sexually molested by her father and grows up to become a prostitute, any weak man can say “Miss, your life is in shambles because you’re choosing to be a whore.” This might even be an obvious point, but it will also continue to erode her self-esteem and ignore the critical half of the equation. It takes a stronger man to first challenge the young lady, and then go inside the home and confront her father for what he has done to create the problem. There is no denying that her father should pay for his daughter’s counseling, apologize, get psychiatric help, be made aware of and told to cease his present abusive actions and face punishment for what he has done. He cannot expect that his family will be peaceful as long as he has not acknowledged his role in the creation of his family’s devastation. At that point, you also teach the daughter personal responsibility, and how to move beyond the past and toward the future.
Why won’t many men do this? Because the daughter is an easy target, and her father might kick you in the ass. That is why many black conservatives won’t challenge white America to have personal responsibility for their role in racism, for this is biting the hand that feeds them (how long would Juan be on the Fox News payroll if he were to tell White America that their institutions and attitudes are a large cause of racial inequality? Contrary to O’Reilly’s indication, I am not compensated by CNN or any other networks for what I say). It also feeds directly into white supremacy to say “The black community is in shambles because black people are making bad choices. The 400 years of oppression have nothing to do with the last 30 years of expression.” Hence, we have Bill O’Reilly getting his rear-end rubbed by Juan Williams, as they both agree that the little girl is nothing but a whore.
O’Reilly claimed that Rev. Jesse Jackson (another guest on the show) was appalled by what I said about Williams, but of course he could not validate his claims on camera. I got a call the very next morning from Jackson’s daughter Santita and received no indication of disapproval from the Jackson family. I am sure that if they had disagreed, they would have told me personally. Santita is a good friend and straight shooter.
Williams, for some reason, thinks that he is contributing to the advancement of black people by teaming up with a proven racist who has KKK members and Neo-Nazis watching his show (you should see the language used in my hate mail). A man who has a problem with President Bush would not team up with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to go after Bush. No matter how valid his arguments might be, the fact is that such actions amount to TREASON and are ultimately destructive. Having a black face does not mean you care about the black race. Clarence Thomas taught us that.
Hence, at the end of the day, I still call Juan Williams the “Happy Negro”. I stand by my remarks and might even put it on a t-shirt. From the response I’ve gotten so far, I wouldn’t be the only one wearing it.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” He does regular commentary in national media, including CNN, FOX, ESPN, and BET. For more information, please visit http://www.BoyceWatkins.com.