Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I don't like Bill O'Reilly. I've never liked Bill O'Reilly. I disagree with his politics. I hate his show. I hate his network. He annoys me. Never, have I ever thought that I would do anything that could even be mistaken for defending him, but here goes...

Scenario: Bill O'Reilly is on the radio, having a discussion with Juan Williams. In the course of their conversation, O'Reilly brings up the time he went out to eat with Al Sharpton. They went to the now seemingly ubiquitous Sylvia's in Harlem, a black-owned restaurant. Apparently, some comments he made during this discussion are making a lot of people angry. Headlines read as follows: "Bill O'Reilly racist comments," "O'Reilly: Sylvia's just like a suburban white restaurant," "Is Bill O'Reilly's Comment on Race an 'Imus Moment' ."

What was offensive? Well, he said that he "couldn't get over" how eating at Sylvia's was like eating anywhere else. He also said, "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-F'er, I want some more iced tea.' " That sounds a lot to me like one of those patronizing, "That [insert black person here] is so articulate [or clean, or polite, or insert-anti-black-stereotypical-adjective-here]." So I can see why folks are upset. But before I decided to let this guy affect my blood pressure, I figured I'd do a little digging to find the statements in their original context, since I noticed that hardly any of the articles commenting on the fallout have provided any context whatsoever.

Check this out. The relevant parts of the transcript are about halfway down the page, after the bullet points, beginning with, "From the September 19 edition of Westwood One's The Radio Factor:"


Once I read the transcript, I realized that several of his statements had been taken out of context. In fact, even the site I've linked to has put the most commonly cited text in boldface text, as if to say that the context for the statements was irrelevant. It appears to me that O'Reilly was trying to say that his visit to Sylvia's was an example of why stereotypes are stupid. Of course, in keeping with his pompous, arrogant character, he said it with words like, "I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference," and "...[T]he people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch [my show] The Factor." Unfortunately for him, his politics and his history of making statements that indict black culture make it painfully difficult to consider that perhaps he meant well by his statements, but in fairness, I think this is one of the times when O'Reilly was not at his worst.

This is part of the problem with race relations in today's society. We don't know how to talk to each other about race relations without mis-speaking and being mis-interpreted at every turn. Mind you, I have no sympathy for O'Reilly here. I'm not concerned about his welfare in the aftermath of his fumble. Trust me, he's already said plenty already for intelligent people to be upset about, and I bet next month he'll say something else stupid that will legitimately piss me off. I'm concerned about the rest of us, and how we've got radio and newspapers hopping all over misinterpreted comments being taken out of context - and people are reading it and eating it up without pausing to question the story - getting hyped, expending energy. 'Cause folks are all so ready to go on the next crusade against racism.

Family: rather than fill folks' in-boxes over some simple comments, a better way to fight racism is to fight for the people affected by it. Read to the kids. Network with minorities. Each one teach one. Go to PTA meetings. Start snitching. Invest in minority start-up businesses. Mentor a child. Be there for your families. We don't have time to be worried about people like Bill O'Reilly and what he has to say about soul food. We have a generation of children to hoist on our shoulders.