NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to CNN host Don Lemon about his new book, “This is the Fire – What I Tell My Friends About Racism”.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Don Lemon spends his weekends letting CNN cover and dictate the public’s understanding of everything from Donald Trump’s presidency to the running race bill. In his new book, This Is The Fire: What I Tell My Friends About Racism, Lemon takes a personal look at the legacy of slavery and racism in America and explains what he would like to see as the path to a future divided country.
Don Lemon, welcome to the WEEKEND EDITION.
DON LEMON: Thank you, Lulu. It is a pleasure to be here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 1963 James Baldwin published “The Fire Next Time” which contains a letter from the author to his nephew. You start your book with a letter to your nephew. I want you to read the first part of this letter.
(Reading) May 25, 2020. Dear Trishad (ph), Today I heard a dying man calling to his mother and crying for the world that will soon be yours. I know what’s next as sure as I know the Mississippi is rolling down to the sea. The crying goes away and anger takes hold. The anger burns out and the guilt begins. Guilt jumps back and forth and promises are made. The promises wither and complacency returns. And the complacency remains. It stagnates like a lullaby in autoplay until another man dies face down on another street in another city and the crying starts all over again.
That’s how I started the book.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me why you wrote this book and why you started it with this letter.
LEMON: When the events of summer 2020 culminated with George Floyd being killed in the middle of a street for everyone to see us quarantined at home in the middle of a pandemic, I realized that this was the fire that James did Baldwin spoke about this, especially after there were very good people on both sides in Charlottesville, Ahmaud Arbery was shot jogging down a street in Brunswick, Georgia, Breonna Taylor was killed in her bed, and then George Floyd died.
And so I sat down and this book poured out of me. And I could have written a number of books during the Trump administration, Lulu, because every time the president tweeted about me or said something casual about me or backhanded someone would reach out and say why don’t you sign up Book? I didn’t want to do this because I’m not a political person and I didn’t want to write a political book. And this book is about being human. It’s more about unity than division. And that’s a book that I wanted to write.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you think Trump was obsessed with you in some ways? I mean, you were someone who really attracted his eyes.
LEMON: I think it’s pretty obvious. I’m a gay black guy who has a platform and tells the truth to power. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. And I initially think Donald Trump thought through his interviews with me that he might try to co-opt me and he didn’t. And when I think he realized he couldn’t get me on his side not to give him a tough interview or hold him accountable, I think his game was to demonize me because that played with his Base. It was very popular with its racist base.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I can imagine that you must have received a lot of hatred for that. I don’t even want to look …
LEMON: A lot.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: … Look like your, you know, inbox or – and social media mentions. But in this book, you say to your black brothers and sisters, we must swallow our righteous anger and forgive, if not forget. Some people may feel that this is not the time to do this. The anger is righteous and should not be swallowed.
LEMON: Well, I’m not saying people have to compromise their morals. And I’m not saying that people have to suppress their own fire and passion. I’m not saying that at all. And I believe that the blacks in this country, especially the African Americans, have become impatient and have taken their time. Be patient. I think the time for that is over.
But we honestly need to help our white brothers and sisters find this out because when you grow out of American soil you can’t help but be prejudiced. And in all honesty, you can’t help but have some breed issues. But I think African Americans will, quite frankly, have to help our brothers and sisters deal with this. And I know it’s awkward to hear, but I really think so. But I also understand the frustration.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, that is the message to your black brothers and sisters. But you also have a message for your white brothers and sisters as you are saying: stop saying that you are not racist. You know, stop defending yourself against something that benefits you. Society is racist. You have to work hard to change it.
LEMON: You do. People are so upset at the possibility of someone thinking they are racist or biased or bigoted in some way. What is the most important thing? Is it racism, bigotry, or bias that matters most, or is it the perception or feeling that someone thinks about you that way? Is it about your fragility, your ego, or the real thing?
And I think if people can really think honestly about this question, they will understand the frustration and there will be some self-correction because people are often outraged about it – how dare you say that I am racist? How dare you Why is that – why does this hurt or threaten you so much as the very act of racism?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You end the book by saying leave the last time now and relate to the fire of racism. I mean, you finished the book before the attack on Congress on January 6th and saw the Confederate flag in one of the most sacred rooms for democracy. I mean, are we in the last place now or are we further away than maybe ever before?
LEMON: I think we can be closer than we think. It all depends on where we’re going from here and what we’re doing with it. I am optimistic about our future because I think there are enough like-minded people who are open and ready to continue this great democracy experiment in this country and that is the pursuit of a more perfect union – not a perfect union, but a more perfect union. And my proof of that is the November 2020 elections. And although there have been large numbers of people who have voted to keep the status quo and actually bring us back when it comes to racial and social justice and equality in this country, there have been there are more Americans who believed we had to go forward and make a change. And I have to be optimistic. And I have to believe that these people – these like-minded people – will win in the end.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Don Lemon, CNN presenter and author of “This Is The Fire”, thank you very much.
LEMON: Lulu, thank you. It was my pleasure.
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