O’Reilly: Blacks Order Tea without Cursing!

Bill O’Reilly made some, um, interesting comments on his radio show Wednesday that have sparked some controversy in the blogosphere after being highlighted by Media Matters. Here, in context, is what he said. All emphases from the Media Matters transcript:

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:

Stephen Spruiell and Johnny Dollar have more.


*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.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Blogosphere, Race and Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Re the crack about “It’s apparently fine for educated middle aged people to buy in to negative stereotypes about the rural South,” — as my regular readers know I am a hillbilly girl from the Ozark Mountains — I brag about this frequently — and grew up in an all-white rural town, so I actually relate to being a “teenage yahoo fresh from all-white Snipe Hunt, Kentucky.” It’s been a couple of centuries since I’ve been a teenager, but never mind.

    FYI, there are college-educated people living in Kentucky.

    Re “But what he’s expressing here isn’t racism but 1970s style white liberal guilt.”

    O’Reilly expresses surprise that Harlem residents don’t conform to his racist stereotypes, and that’s not racism? Puh-LEEZE.

    I grew up (in a legally segregated town) believing all manner of outrageous things about Black People, because that’s what I was taught and had no experience associating with anyone who wasn’t white, or Christian, until I went away to college. I figured out after a while that what I’d been taught was racism. As I said, O’Reilly is even older than I am and grew up in the New York metropolitan area, so what’s HIS excuse?

    And, btw, what’s YOURS? You’ve been in a box, too?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Fair enough on the Southern roots issue. And, FYI, I’m from Alabama and have several degrees and taught college there so, yes, I had an inkling that there were college grads in Kentucky.

    O’Reilly isn’t expressing surprise that black people, per se, conform to those stereotypes; as you say, I’m sure he knows plenty of black people living in NYC.

    He’s been led to believe, though, that the blacks he knows are somehow exceptional. He’s pleasantly surprised, therefore, that even the epicenter of urban culture, Harlem, is actually much more like “white-bread culture” than he’d been led to believe by popular culture.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    We could go back over things other people have said and dissect the words, add our interpretations, and come to conclusions totally different than what the speaker intended. Since the speaker is not part of the present discussion it’s somewhat unfair for us to do that.

    It’s just as easy to take O’Reilly’s “I couldn’t get over the fact” statement and interpret it as his frustration over the differences between actual black and minority life versus the portrayals of black and minority life we are fed through hip hop culture and even the more mainstream media. Much of what we see reinforces stereotypes. Both he and Juan Williams recognize the corrosive nature of such images.

    Barbara O’Brien asks above if some have been in a box. The answer is yes, many of us have been for various reasons when it comes to race relations. More importantly I see a box being created by certain media that keeps us in a box and keeps us separated culturally from other Americans who just happen to be a different race. We should recognize our similarities not our differences.

  4. carpeicthus says:

    Oh, it’s quite obviously racist, but in the context of someone having to grapple with their racism. Wasn’t it K-Lo who once saw a black family sitting at a restaurant and wanted to stand up and applaud them for not being crack whores?

  5. just me says:

    Having grown up in Kentucky, I can’t say that there are too many “all white” cities and towns there, and you sure enough can’t live there and not see, meet, and work with and around African Americans.

    I went to a small private school, and that wasn’t even “all white.”

    Shoot the culture shock to me was moving to NH, where you could easily go a whole week and not run into a single black person. But you don’t see too many comments about “all white, snipe hunting, NH.”

    So it is pretty much making an argument off a stereotype.

  6. Andy says:

    He’s been led to believe, though, that the blacks he knows are somehow exceptional. He’s pleasantly surprised, therefore, that even the epicenter of urban culture, Harlem, is actually much more like “white-bread culture” than he’d been led to believe by popular culture.

    This just means he is both crazily racist and an idiot.

    However, we already knew that.

  7. Anderson says:

    He’s been led to believe, though, that the blacks he knows are somehow exceptional.

    Andrew beats me to it — O’Reilly is too pathetic for words. His minstrel-show image of “normal blacks” is an embarrassment.

    Valiant effort, JJ, but I think this one’s a loser.

  8. Anon says:

    I belong to a minority, but I’m not black. And I detest O’Reilly.

    Nonetheless, I didn’t find his statements outrageous. Even if he had replaced “black” with the minority I belong to, I would not have been offended.

    If the comments had been about native intellectual ability, then they would have been offensive. But they were mainly about culture, not ability.

  9. Anon says:

    Also, I mainly agree with O’Reilly’s larger point. (Probably a first and last.) Yeah, blacks have a raw deal, and I’m sure that there is plenty of subtle racism that they have to deal with on a daily basis.

    But to blame that racism for not being able to “make it” in America is simply incorrect.

  10. whippoorwill says:

    White mans guilt? O’Reilly just happened to find some black people behaving white enough to suit him, and he wanted to share that with his listeners. And the only difference between black gangsters and white ones is white crooks tend to wear suits and work for Enron or the Bush Administration.

  11. JohnG says:

    I’m a non-black minority who doesn’t like O’Reily but I do catch enough of him to know that he hates hip hop culture. I don’t find what he said to be racist at all but rather that this conversation goes to why he hates that culture. People are calling him racist for pointing out that real black people don’t conform to negative stereotypes, but they completely miss that the people advancing those stereotypes are not racist white guys but black rappers and that the people pushing racial tensions are black leaders like Sharpton. That’s O’Reily’s point – the black community itself needs to stop putting out these negative stereotypes and demanding racial solidarity on all issues, because really they aren’t that much different from any other population in the US.

  12. Andy says:

    If the comments had been about native intellectual ability, then they would have been offensive. But they were mainly about culture, not ability.

    Fantastic! Bill’O merely thinks that, culturally speaking, most black people are yelling, “Get me some muthaf’ing grape drink!” But at least it’s not genetic!

  13. anjin-san says:

    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.”

    …but it’s not racist in any “meaningful” sense…. right.

    You guy don’t spend too much time hanging with the brothers, do you?

  14. Tanisha says:

    It speaks volumes that he was generally surprised that black people didn’t act a certain way. Its obvious he has a dearth of interaction with black people.

    No one thinks white people go around eating people because of Jeffrey Dahmer.

    It doesn’t take deep analysis. An educated, traveled man should know better. And would if he cared to.

    And if you think what you see in hip hop videos are indicative of an entire race you’re clueless too. White people put out ridiculous and unflattering depictions of themselves all the time as well but white people don’t buy into those do they? Why because they have interaction with different kinds of people than those negative portrayals.

  15. Kristle says:

    So Mr. Oreilly when are you going to prove that all whites are not the same? When will black Americans get to experience this. Since you done us a favor and all…. I am a black female who has a bachleor degree (as your kind would say educated), I listen to rap music occasionally, I respect Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton. Because if this country didn’t have the history that it encompasses there wouldn’t be any need for leaders as such. I am also smart enough to understand that hip hop/rap music is an art; it’s no diffrent then you or any other over paid racist white person broad casting your bigot views of national television. Mr Rielly what grade level have you completed??????/

  16. Zakia says:

    I find it sad that in 2007 some White people think that Black people hold the crown for rudeness, loudness, and any other behavior that seems inappropriate. I am a 32 year old black woman who would defy every sterotype created, and I can name several people in my family that would also be a shock to “Mr. O’really.” I have been married for 9 years to a black man, who has worked at the same job for 9 years, I have a BS degree, and my husband is the father of our two children born in-wedlock, amazing. I have a cousin at Harvard Med school right now and I also have a cousin teaching in Malaysia, and his brother is working on his PHD. Bill really needs to do more reading. My grandparents had ten black children who are all professionals and not in jail. Why would black people not know how to act a restaurant? I have been eating out since I was born in 1975.

  17. Jason says:

    It speaks volumes that he was generally surprised that black people didn’t act a certain way. Its obvious he has a dearth of interaction with black people.

    He might, or he might interact with the blacks he meets as ‘middle/upper class blacks’ as opposed to ‘innercity hood blacks’. Despite his experience with them, he was still led to believe by the media that there’s a serious subculture of profanity, rudeness, disrespect for police officers, respecting law-breaking gangsters, murder, etc…

    There’s a world of difference between my fellow workers who happen to be black and the ‘friends’ of my cousin who also happen to be black. Then again, I lump my cousin right in along with his friends. He’s currently serving time in prison for a felony theft conviction. It’s about the culture – not the color.

    I don’t agree with O’Reilly on everything by any means – but I will state that I think that a culture that encourages politeness, education, and respect for others and their property is superior to one that doesn’t.

  18. kristy fleurestil says:

    I want to comment on O’Reilly, to say he isnt being racist on his comments is BS.(excuse my language). Syliva’s Restaurant is one the top Soul Food restaurants in New York City,now why would he think there would be any so called thugs there. The former President Bill Clinton has eating there just to mention a few names. I can understand the fustration with hop/hop perterpation on the culture but thats not to say all black people act like that. He has worked and iam sure been around enough black people now to know.

  19. Mack Simmons says:

    Part of what O’Reilly said — that many middle-class whites who have few interactions with blacks, think all blacks behave similar to the stereotypes they see in hip-hop videos and on television — is similar to what blacks such as myself say all the time. And he’s right. One can bet that the average editor-in-chief of a major newspaper — middle-aged like O’Reilly and likely to have spent little time with blacks of all socioeconomic backgrounds — thinks blacks are all liberal-leaning and are voting for Barack Obaman, even though neither is the case. Hell, I can tell you that it is the case in my own newsroom, where our own editor-in-chief passed on giving one reporter her own column because he was looking for a diversity of viewpoints and blacks weren’t all that diverse in their thinking. He probably didn’t realize otherwise until he interviewed me — a libertarian — for my current job.

    The sad news is that O’Reilly, a person who shouldn’t be all that perceptive when it comes to race relations, offered in his own hamfisted way, a more congent insight on the matter than Juan Williams, who should have been more appalled at O’Reilly’s display of ignorance during the rest of the conversation.

  20. Teddy says:

    Although I normally shy away from Bill O’Reilly as a raving-at-the-mouth lunatic, but sometime’s he’s spot on about issues (every dog has his day, so they say). I can see this dialogue he holds as one of two things. Either it’s a white man acknowledging that there were certain racist or bigotted tendencies in his mind, that were completely unfounded and foolish. Or, it’s a guy saying that popular culture and society has painted a black person to be a rude, obnoxious fool- and it is completely unfounded and foolish.

  21. carolyn says:

    mr, oreilly needs a lesson in not stereotyping. i have been to restaurants and white people have been laughing loud disturbing others, getting drunk in their bar and grills and staggering out the door to drive home drunk. plus every other restarant i have eaten at a white person pulls out a hanky and blows his nose at the table. i think that is the most ignorant thing you can do. and i have never seen ablack person do that in a restaurant. to me that is just plain nasty and rude.ao*@ya***.com" rel="nofollow">

  22. Mack Simmons says:

    And that should be “Obama,” not “Obaman.” My apologies.

  23. funky chicken says:

    Don’t most rappers and their supporters say that the reason their “art” is so vile is that they are just “keeping it real” or just reflecting the reality of daily life in their neighborhoods? I think O’Reilly and Williams are arguing that point. Rappers are marketing a destructive, evil image that has a terrible influence on young black men and women, not just talking about “normal” stuff.

  24. Sharon says:

    O’Reilly is a white man who has not experienced racism. If he had, he would understand that his words were insensitive and racist. He talks as if he has been parenting blacks by expressing how far they have come. Like a parent talking about a child who disappointed him, but now has come so far, and maybe now he can be proud of them. If my opinions are correct, this could prove that he still has the white man’s attitude of being the head of all households and that anyone not male, white, and of his moral likeness, is subject to his insensitive comments. He made the mistake of talking about something he knows litle about, black culture. He would be a better person if he were to comment more on how far the white race needs to go in respecting different cultures, and how other cultures would naturally react so negatively to the comments he made. He should have to get his own damn tea the next time he is in a service oriented restaurant. That would certainly give him something to think about on how far he has come as a man.

  25. bains says:

    Seems some are trying darn hard to manufacture outrage.

  26. constance says:

    Bill is so obessed with black folks. We’re like less than 10% of the population. White people are the biggest consumers of bad rap albums and rap concerts. As long as white youth is buying gangster and sexist rap it will continue to grow. I think he needs to address the white community for supporting and funding Bad Rap! Even it every black person in America stop buying gangster/sexist rap, it wouldn’t stop bad rap. If it wasn’t for rich white men marketing and financing these rap projects, there would be no mainstream rap. Bill look at your own community and stop over analyzing the black community. There are bad people in every race.

  27. kayla says:

    If some of us wouldnt act a damn fool when we go places we wouldnt have that stereotype! But because a lot of black people like to be SEEN and HEARD “others” form an opinion of all of us!.

  28. daniel says:

    Kayla, please stop being an apologist, you’re as bad as Williams! People like you are why the grown white men in seats of power in this country feel the right to come out with their elitist/bigoted/prejudiced views, yet bear no responsibility for the damage that their kind of thinking causes. Bill is an adult, and he’ll have to stand behind whatever he chooses to say.

  29. Kathryne says:

    Although we may not agree with how he said what he said, the truth is he was simply stating that his initial thoughts about our race were wrong. He mentioned that he realizes, (it makes no difference how old he is or how long it took to get there) that there is no difference between the cultures of one or the other. If it had been an African American stating the same thing, there would have been a lot more “Amens”. But it’s such a touchy subject that whenever a white person speaks about our race, we’re looking for the fault in what they say. The truth is in this instance their was no fault. If his words were sincere, he admitted his misjudgements. The truth is that some of our communities do make a mockery of learning, some children do grow up thinking that the way to real money is rapping about and degrading females. And the way we are portrayed on t.v makes it very difficult to believe that we are anything more than animals. As much as I am down for the cause, this is one fight I cannot join into.

  30. buzz says:

    Good freaking Lord.
    I can’t stand Oreilly, but I got what he was saying. Hip hop and rap music presents all of black life as thug life, but here in this restaurant, the staff and patrons are black, yet no one is acting out the thug lifestyle. He is NOT saying that this is surprising. He is NOT saying that this is contrary to his expectations. He is only saying that contrary to what is presented in rap and videos, every is pretty much the same. He used sarcasm to make his point. Why is that so hard to understand. They were talking about hip hop and rap culture and he says something like “and I was in this restaurant and no one was screaming MF get me some tea!” Surely every can find some REAL issues to get indignant about.