Sunday, August 18, 2013


Dear Don Lemon,

I watched with some measure of astonishment and amazement at your attempt recently to cosign Bill O'Reilly's generalizations about the Black community.(Black is capitalized on purpose.) To begin, I am also a black gay male such as yourself, who is college educated, and a published author. I grew up in many of the same neighborhoods you generalized in your rant. In fact, I grew up 6 blocks from Michelle Obama, our First Lady's, childhood home.

Although she and I are ten years apart in age, we attended the same elementary school and high school here in Chicago. The "low income",  neighborhood( it's hilarious that when white people are poor, they call the area, "working class", but when blacks are at the same income level, we are called "low income") She and I grew up in, was at times gang infested; it wasn't Cabrini Green by any stretch of the imagination, but it probably wasn't the nice middle class environment you were raised in.

Your tone deaf analysis of the condition of black people is a specious argument, at best. I say specious, because on the surface, it appears to make perfect sense. Upon evaluation, however, there are deep flaws that must be brought to your attention. You failed to mention the multi generational cycles of poverty brought about during the late 1960's through the 1970's that continues and has spiraled out of control in many black urban areas. This is important to note, because this is not the first time that high crime, murder and the like has permeated urban areas in the United States. In the 1920's, Irish and other immigrants were marginalized within white society and lived in deep pockets of urban poverty. If you watch "Gangs of New York", it chronicles, albeit theatrically, the gang violence of that era.

Sound familiar?

Gang violence, poverty, ethnic on ethnic crime and murder?

The Government's response was not to incarcerate, criminalize and demonize these immigrants. On the contrary, they realized that opening doors to education, the ability to procure employment or even start your own businesses, were better solutions. You can't even name a Jewish "ghetto" today, can you? It isn't because they "pulled themselves up by their bootstraps", Mr. Lemon. They had help.

No one sat on a radio lecturing them about "personal responsibility". No one talked about the disproportionally high birth rates among those marginalized immigrants. You,however, in your cosigning with an avowed race baiter like O'Reilly, showed exactly how much you simply don't get it.

Russell Simmons compared sagging jeans to Afro's and dashiki's. You responded by pointing out that Afro's and dashiki's were symbols of black cultural pride. Indeed they were. However, his point flew completely over your head.

Let me explain.

In the late 1960's through the 1970's law enforcement viewed Afro's and dashikis with contempt. Such contempt, in fact, that they routinely profiled, stopped and searched persons wearing these symbols of "cultural pride". The Black Panthers, for whom the style is most widely known and associated, were deemed "The most dangerous terrorist organization in the United States" by J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.

That is correct, Mr. Lemon. They were viewed as militant criminal threats, and anyone-i mean anyone, male or female, rocking that style, may have been stopped and "frisked" by the police, had their phones wire tapped, and seen as a danger and menace to society.

Sort of like how young black men who sag their pants today are seen. That was Russell Simmons point.

I take it that your grasp of history got lost when white America accepted you as a gay man.  A general rule of thumb, is to stay out of race based discussions if your experience cannot speak accurately and effectively for those most marginalized. I pray that going forward, you follow that advice and stay in your lane.

May this letter find you in the best of health and spirit.

Hassan Hartley


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