Thursday, September 27, 2007

No, Mr. O’Reilly There Is A Difference

I recently read the comments of Bill O’Reilly and I must say I am disgusted at the inference of his comments. This once again proves that to understand race in America is to understand it in all its subtlest forms. In America, very few things are as they appear, this country is rampant with false images and hidden innuendos. My belief is that it is a characteristic of the dominant culture to be disingenuous in most matters. I say this based on my experience living and working among whites for much of my life. Whites, in an effort to avoid conflict have tended to be less than genuine in many situations. Because of this characteristic many people who are not familiar with the subtleties would say that racism is no longer an issue in America, those people would be wrong.

According to published reports, Mr. O’Reilly was slummin it in Harlem with one of his closest friends, the Rev. Al Sharpton. (Some of his closest friends are black.)They were having dinner at Sylvia’s, a famous soul food restaurant and Mr. O’Reilly couldn’t help but notice how well-behaved the Black folks were. They were so well-behaved that according to Mr. O’Reilly that it was like eating at any other restaurant in New York. And just to show you how liberal he is, Mr. O’Reilly attended an Anita Baker concert and much to his amazement the band members were well-dressed and not wearing the “sag”.

You know, I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy. And he comes on The Factor a lot, and then I treated him to dinner, because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.[1]

I think the thing that bothers me the most about his comments is not what he is saying, but what he means by saying it and why he feels he has to say it. It’s as if he is visiting someone’s house with unruly kids and to his shock and amazement the kids weren’t tearing down the house or writing graffiti on the walls. Why in 2007, does this need to be said? Why must some white man have to tell other white people how black people behave? The sad part about it is that he doesn’t even think he has done anything wrong. He actually believes that he was giving a compliment to black folks.

In order to understand the context of his comments, one has to understand who Bill O’Reilly and many of his ilk are. First and foremost they are entertainers, they masquerade as journalists, but they are there to entertain. Mr. O’Reilly is just a more subtle version of Don Imus; he uses more colloquialisms and therefore is more palatable for many whites. The problem with Mr. O’Reilly and those like him is there influence is based on false assumptions. Because they perpetrate as “newspeople”, many believe that they are getting factual news when in fact they are getting opinion, opinions that have been developed to appeal to their target audience. The purpose of the media is to sell something, advertisement. The ads aren’t there because of the shows; the shows are there because of the ads.

The writers write shows to appeal to a certain segment of the public, their “target audience” usually young whites between the ages of 14-25. The reason being is that research has shown that they have the most expendable income; they buy the most crap and usually the expensive crap. So many of the shows on television are targeting this market, hence Friends, Earl, and American Idol to name a few. But there are other markets that are targeted as well, with the growth of talk radio and the wingnuts they are now being targeted. They are targeted with the likes of O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, and those clowns. There job is to say and do things controversial that will appeal to their target audience. These people are actors and some of them are pretty good.

Now are some of them racists, I’m sure they are. But many of them are playing for ratings and guess what controversy sells. So, the problem is not these clowns, but the audience they play to. That we still have white people in America that have to be told that Blacks have restaurants where there are no shootings, cursing, and fighting is a sad commentary on the state of race in America. What that says is that we are so isolated and fearful that we don’t even know how each other lives, that our impressions of each other is gained not from experience, but from sound bites and pseudo newspeople.

I wish I could say that it was only confined to the southern, rightwing, and rich, but it isn’t. These stereotypical beliefs effect liberals and progressives just as much. There is much to be done in America concerning race, the first thing is we have to overcome our isolation and fears. We should begin to interact with each other on a more personal level than speaking to the black person at the store or fast food restaurant.

The reason I am such a big proponent of school desegregation is that if we begin to interact with each other early and often we can begin to overcome these stereotypes and gain a better understanding of each other. If not, we will continue to drift ever further apart and instead of two Americas there will be many more.

No, Mr. O’Reilly there is a difference and the difference is not necessarily between black and white, but between those who create problems and those who solve problems. While your comments may increase your ratings with your “target audience”, it only helps to create a larger divide between the bigger audience which is all of America. Thanks


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