Editor’s Note: Don Lemon anchors ‘CNN Tonight with Don Lemon’ airing weeknights at 10pm. He also serves as a correspondent across CNN/U.S. programming. Lemon joined CNN in September 2006.
People are protesting in the streets — they’re angry, exhausted and scared by what they see happening in America. They want to know how we got here … and how we move forward. And I’m ready to have that conversation, too.
Today, I launched “Silence Is Not an Option,” a new podcast that will be an ongoing discussion about how we oppose racism — in fact, how we become anti-racist — and move toward building that “more perfect union” we were promised but that’s never really been available to all. Now is the time that history books will write about — and we are living in it.
What can we do with this opportunity while so many people are open to listening and maybe, more importantly, receptive to change?
To start, we all have a lot to learn about why things are the way they are, and even more to unlearn if we’re really going to make things better. You might have questions that you’re afraid to ask because you’re embarrassed or don’t want to offend anyone, but we’ve got to be able to ask those questions or we’ll never get to an answer.
Some of you are saying, “This podcast isn’t for me. I’m not racist. I voted for Obama. I don’t say the n-word. I’m nice to the Black people at work. I have a Black friend or even a Black partner or spouse.”
But racism isn’t all about white hoods and burning crosses — it’s a white woman walking her dog and unnecessarily calling the police on a Black man. By that I mean, it’s not the obvious racism that we already know is out there, it’s the next level that we’ve got to get to — our own unconscious, ingrained racism.
Kendi, who joins Boston University’s faculty on July 1 and will launch the BU Center for Antiracist Research, has said anti-racism means “the willingness to define terms, and to hold oneself accountable, to admit the times in which we’re being racist. But even more importantly, to strive to hold antiracist ideas, meaning that all the racial groups are equals.”
In other words, it’s not enough to just be not racist — you must become proactively anti-racist. You have to fight against racism like you’re battling a cancer.
So how do we take steps toward becoming anti-racist in our own lives? How do we step up when we hear a colleague or a family member make a racist joke? How do we make sure our workplaces are equitable and inclusive? How do we make sure all kids feel safe when they’re at the playground? And how do you make sure the police in our communities are working for us?
“It’s not a question of guilt. It’s a question of responsibility. It’s a question of doing the right thing,” said Christopher Petrella, a professor at American University’s department of history.
One simple thing you can do? Start widening your social circle. “White folk have to be in enduring, committed, loving, respectful, inquisitive, humanistic relationships with folk who are not white, with people of color, in order to do this work in a way that doesn’t create further harm,” Petrella said.
White folks, listen closely because this part is really important: Even as you’re widening your social circle, remember that your Black friend or coworker isn’t responsible for telling you how to be better. You have to do the work. You have to investigate the solutions for yourself.
Another step you can take is to read up. You can start with Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist.” I also recommend “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin.
And then, get active. You can start with your local neighborhood and community institutions, Kendi said. Ask how you can help fight unequal policies through your expertise, and when possible, through your financial support.
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I know that this issue, like this country, isn’t just black and white — we’re all impacted by this, and we all have work to do. Listening to this podcast won’t wash away your sins, and you won’t get a certificate at the end. You may still say the wrong thing — hell, I am sure at some point I’m gonna say the wrong thing — but silence is not an option. We’ve got to talk about this and find some concrete steps forward, together.
America is having a moment. … Will you be part of it?
Don Lemon’s new podcast is called “Silence Is Not an Option.”