O’Reilly: Blacks Order Tea without Cursing!
O”REILLY: Now, how do we get to this point? Black people in this country understand that they’ve had a very, very tough go of it, and some of them can get past that, and some of them cannot. I don’t think there’s a black American who hasn’t had a personal insult that they’ve had to deal with because of the color of their skin. I don’t think there’s one in the country. So you’ve got to accept that as being the truth. People deal with that stuff in a variety of ways. Some get bitter. Some say, [unintelligible] “You call me that, I’m gonna be more successful.” OK, it depends on the personality.
So it’s there. It’s there, and I think it’s getting better. I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves. They’re getting away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture. They’re just trying to figure it out: “Look, I can make it. If I work hard and get educated, I can make it.”
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.
And I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship. It was the same, and that’s really what this society’s all about now here in the U.S.A. There’s no difference. There’s no difference. There may be a cultural entertainment — people may gravitate toward different cultural entertainment, but you go down to Little Italy, and you’re gonna have that. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody’s skin.
O’REILLY: No, no, I mean, I like that soul food. I had the meatloaf special. I had coconut shrimp. I had the iced tea. It was great.
WILLIAMS: Well, let me just tell you, the one thing I would say is this. And we’re talking about the kids who still like this gangsta rap, this vile poison that I think is absolutely, you know, literally a corruption of culture. I think that what you’ve got to take into account that it’s still a majority white audience — young, white people who think they’re into rebelling against their parents who buy this stuff and think it’s just a kick. You know, it’s just a way of expressing their anti-authoritarianism.
O’REILLY: But it’s a different — it’s a different dynamic, though.
WILLIAMS: Exactly right —
O’REILLY: Because the young, white kids don’t have to struggle out of the ghetto.
WILLIAMS: Right, and also, I think they can have that as one phase of their lives.
WILLIAMS: I think too many of the black kids take it as, “Oh, that’s what it means to be authentically black. That’s how you make money. That’s how you become rich and famous and get on TV and get music videos.” And you either get the boys or the girls. The girls think they have to, you know, be half-naked and spinning around like they’re on meth in order to get any attention. It really corrupts people, and I think it adds, Bill, to some serious sociological problems, like the high out-of-wedlock birth rate because of this hypersexual imagery that then the kids adapt to some kind of reality. I mean, it’s inauthentic. It’s not in keeping with great black traditions of struggle and excellence, from Willie Mays to Aretha Franklin, but even in terms of academics, you know, going back to people like Charles Drew or Ben Carson here, the neurosurgeon at [Johns] Hopkins [University]. That stuff, all of a sudden, is pushed aside. That’s treated as, “You’re a nerd, you’re acting white,” if you try to be excellent and black.
O’REILLY: You know, and I went to the concert by Anita Baker at Radio City Music Hall, and the crowd was 50/50, black/white, and the blacks were well-dressed. And she came out — Anita Baker came out on the stage and said, “Look, this is a show for the family. We’re not gonna have any profanity here. We’re not gonna do any rapping here.” The band was excellent, but they were dressed in tuxedoes, and this is what white America doesn’t know, particularly people who don’t have a lot of interaction with black Americans. They think that the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg.
WILLIAMS: Oh, and it’s just so awful. It’s just so awful because, I mean, it’s literally the sewer come to the surface, and now people take it that the sewer is the whole story —
O’REILLY: That’s right. That’s right. There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, “M-Fer, I want more iced tea.”
WILLIAMS: Please —
O’REILLY: You know, I mean, everybody was — it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.
Hilzoy wonders, “If it was wrong for Don Imus to refer to the Rutgers basketball team as ‘nappy-headed hos’, and it was, and if MSNBC rightly decided that they had to drop him, then why on earth does Bill O’Reilly still have a job?”
Barbara O’Brien terms O’Reilly’s comments “racist” and “unreal” and remarks, “This would have been bad enough if O’Reilly were some teenage yahoo fresh from all-white Snipe Hunt, Kentucky. But O’Reilly is even older than I am, and grew up on Long Island, for pity’s sake. Did his parents keep him in a box?”
It’s apparently fine for educated middle aged people to buy in to negative stereotypes about the rural South but confessing to being pleasantly surprised that the stereotypes of black urban culture are overblown makes you a racist? And FOX ought to fire its highest rated host for saying things no worse than Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden have said?*
I’m no fan of O’Reilly, who I find to be pompous, phony, and just generally annoying. But what he’s expressing here isn’t racism but 1970s style white liberal guilt.
It’s noteworthy that the WILLIAMS in the dialog above is Juan Williams, a black man and chronicler of the civil rights movement who authored Eyes on The Prize, Thurgood Marshall—American Revolutionary, and The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—and What We Can Do about It.
Like Williams, O’Reilly is frustrated with the worst elements of hip hop culture. He’s a very wealthy and successful man, which means the blacks in his community and workplace are people like Williams or Barack Obama or Colin Powell. His sense of black inner city culture, then, is shaped by the entertainment industry, which in fact depicts urban black men as loud, vulgar thugs. It’s been a staple of mainstream black standup comedians for decades that black men holler at the screen in the movie theater and are otherwise rather obnoxious when among their own kind. So, he’s pleasantly surprised to go into a restaurant in Harlem — the epitome of what we used to call ghetto culture — and find it indistinguishable from a little Italian joint in his own neighborhood. And he can’t wait to share that news with his mostly white audience.
O’Reilly’s real thesis — interestingly, not in bold text above — is this:
It was the same, and that’s really what this society’s all about now here in the U.S.A. There’s no difference. There’s no difference. There may be a cultural entertainment — people may gravitate toward different cultural entertainment, but you go down to Little Italy, and you’re gonna have that. It has nothing to do with the color of anybody’s skin.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a white man saying that would have been looked at as an ultra-liberal. Now, he’s a bigot?
Note that Williams didn’t seem the least bit offended or put off by O’Reilly’s remarks. My guess is that he’s had variations of this conversation before with O’Reilly and other white friends. It’s a very worthwhile one to have, in my view, and the more public the better.
UPDATE: Juan Williams has responded angrily to these smears against O’Reilly, calling them “rank dishonesty.” Here’s the video:
*I’ve defended both the Clinton and Biden remarks; I merely use them here to illustrate that it’s not just conservatives who say awkward things about racial matters and yet aren’t “racist” in any meaningful sense.