Don Lemon’s New Book Hopes to Guide America Through a Conversation About Race
THAT’S THE FIRE
What I tell my friends about racism
From Don Lemon
Only pages in the prologue of “This is the fire”, the reader finds the author in tears. The prologue picks up on the title’s allusion to James Baldwin and is written as the author’s letter to his nephew after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020. “When I saw this shocking footage, I and every other black man I know saw the imperceptibly lazy murder of ourselves,” says CNN anchor Don Lemon. “In excruciating real time, I saw the strange fruits of Billie Holiday hanging on the poplar tree. I had to close my door and cry. “
It is a moving moment that is shaped by both the weight of history and the relativity of the present. While this book is supposedly addressed to his nieces and nephews, it’s hard to imagine Lemon speaking each sentence through a camera in front of an invisible audience of millions.
To the extent that we are currently having a national racial dialogue in the United States, Lemon is one of the hosts. Lemon is, as a Mediaite columnist recently said, the “openly black” voice of the network. His coverage of the race is intertwined with his personal identity: Lemon testifies to his own trauma for the benefit of the viewer’s understanding, speaks racist truths painfully obvious to black viewers and shocking to some white viewers, and prompts the audience to walk Keeping up with the basics and asking viewers to believe their truthfulness. Such is the agonizing job of the black journalist who works for the white media.
[ Read an excerpt from “This Is the Fire.” ]
“White brothers and sisters: take this, but I’m not racist! Map. I don’t want to hear from your black college friend or your black postman you give fruitcakes to every Christmas, or that black teacher who totally shook your world. It doesn’t matter whether you are racist or non-racist or anti-racist; Our society is racist, ”explains Lemon early on, clearly annoyed.
Unconstrained by the constraints of the news cycle, “This Is the Fire” is Lemon’s attempt to keep this conversation going about the race. In the book, he provides a straightforward, historically backed investigation into the racial segregation that plagued our nation.
Lemon style is familiar to anyone who has read his 2011 memoir, “Transparent,” or even to anyone who watches it regularly on CNN. He wrote much of “This Is the Fire” in his own easily recognizable voice and explores a number of the most controversial issues of our time – including police shootings and Confederate memorial battles – by combining transcripts of the interviews he conducted on air with a fully researched context that too often is missing in cable news.
Similar to his show, the book jumps around both in terms of content and tone. Sections exploring deep American history suddenly give way to contemporary anecdotes. The pandemic shutter shops on Long Island are beginning to “reopen like temporary amber snails, expanding tentacles at a time to feel the humidity after an early summer storm”. A few lines later: “Dr. Fauci ”is displayed without a first name or title. After all, if you’re a regular viewer, you know who that is.
Lemon is strongest when he turns his gaze backwards and connects our nation’s history with his own. His childhood in the suburb of Baton Rouge provides an opportunity to explore Louisiana’s history of white supremacy and subjugation by blacks. The Hamptons home he shares with his fiancé Tim becomes a reason to explore Maude Terry’s efforts in the 1940s and 50s to plant a black community along the Long Island coast. The tragic drowning of his sister Leisa in 2018 gives way to some of the book’s most heartbreaking prose – “The loss of a sibling is a precise, localized agony, the loss of a reflected self” – as Lemon examines the objectification and commercialization of Black Death, from the lynching postcards of the 1900s to the police videos that loop many nights on shows like his own.
“We need to know the objective truth about what happened, not the reflexively self-justifying version of events advocated by the officers involved and advocated by conservative law-and-order conservatives,” Lemon writes, referring to Police killings. “At the same time, it’s our responsibility to provide the context so these images don’t convey the same terrifying message as the bloody pike posted downstream from Baton Rouge: know your place, black kid, or it could be you.”
Lemon does not suggest any specific political or cultural change – it is the journalist’s job to document the depth of the problem in detail, not necessarily to find the solution – but he makes it clear that he believes this is the first step in changing our nation one is a shared understanding of our collective history. “We didn’t come here by accident. The moment we find ourselves in as a nation and as an individual was deliberately invented by people whose agenda had nothing to do with creating a better world, ”he writes at the beginning of the book.
It’s evident both in tone and in content – the kind of ruthless historical statement by an “openly black” newscaster that will cause some white viewers to hold onto their pearls even when black viewers look at each other and unemotionally notice, “Yes, we already knew that. “
In fact, Lemon is right: we did not arrive at this moment, our “racial problem” is by mistake deeply unsolved. It remains unclear whether Lemon white readers and viewers are ready to believe it.