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Don Lemon, In the Tank

Author and Hoover Institution fellow Shelby Steele once wrote:

To be born into a minority group is, among other things, to be born into a collective experience of insecurity. Put differently, it is to be born into a group of nervous people. If you are born black in America, as has been my own fate, then you are born into a particularly intense insecurity. Your people have known almost nothing but insecurity and impotence for centuries — this as opposed to the majority culture’s experience of itself as heroic and world-beating; ingenious in peace, dominant in war.
One thing this means for minorities is that their group identity will often be the enemy of their individuality. In its insecurity, the group is naturally threatened by the impulse in some of its members to think for themselves. Individuals like this seem to put the group at risk. What will we do if the majority culture thinks you speak for us? Your indulgence in individuality jeopardizes the carefully constructed mask we present to the powerful majority. Your individuality collaborates with them. So knock it off. Get in line, or we will shun you to the point of extinction.

CNN’s treatment of radio talk show host James T. Harris illustrates this point well. For supporting McCain over Obama, Harris has been receiving hate mail and death threats from Obama supporters who accuse him of being a race traitor and a sellout. Last Sunday, CNN anchor Don Lemon invited Harris on to talk about it. Lemon seemed amazed that Harris didn’t understand why so many blacks view him as a traitor:

First, Lemon read a sample of what he had earlier in the segment called “passionate hate mail.” The samples he chose referred to Harris as a traitor and accused him of taking money to support McCain. Then, as if these repulsive accusations merited a response, Lemon asked very seriously, “How do you respond to that?”

Harris replied that he hasn’t been paid to support McCain, and that he supports McCain because he is a conservative. Lemon was incredulous:

OK, do you understand it, though, in any way? I’m just asking, do you understand that there is, you know, an African-American man who finally there’s a chance for him to become president, and black people are saying what is wrong with this man? What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you supporting him?

That prompted the following exchange:

HARRIS: That’s the question that I absolutely just — listen. Barack Obama is an American of Kenyan descent. And he is on the verge of making history. But for me it’s not about color or the color of one skin. It’s about ideology. He is a liberal. He’s the most liberal senator in the Senate. And I am a conservative. And I don’t believe that his vision of America is what’s best. And now there are millions of people who feel the way I do. My question is why is it that because I am an American of African descent I have to toe that line?

LEMON: OK, I got to tell you this, too, because there were some people who said — as we said earlier, I told you this, African- Americans are not a monolithic group. And this is America, you can do whatever you want.

HARRIS: You said that, but I’m starting to think you are wrong.

LEMON: Whatever you want — whatever you want to be, you can be conservative, you can be –

HARRIS: Well, Mr. Lemon that’s obviously not true.

But here’s the kicker: After reading all those e-mails saying the most hateful things imaginable about James T. Harris and then asking him point-blank, “What’s wrong with you?” Lemon said, with a straight face:

A lot of people have been saying that the tone that’s being brought up by the McCains is inspiring hate speech in some people. How can you support — and I read one of those comments earlier. How can you support in light of what’s happened lately on the campaign trail?

In 2008, if you’re a black conservative, “passionate” hate speech toward you is understandable, but drawing attention to Obama’s questionable associations is beyond the pale. Don Lemon, welcome to the Tank. (h/t Hot Air)

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