by Racialicious guest contributor Carla Murphy
By now you’ve heard that FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly told a national audience how surprised he was to learn that black folk in Harlem are civilized. I’m not concerned with what he said. I’m interested in his listening audience—unknown numbers of white folk who were similarly surprised and even grateful, that O’Reilly had returned with good news from Black Land.
To recap, after treating the Rev. Al Sharpton to dinner (Sharpton is a frequent guest on The Factor), O’Reilly remarked to radio listeners that he couldn’t get over the fact that Sylvia’s—so famous, btw, that much of its business probably comes from busloads of European tourists—was like any white restaurant in New York City.
“There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea,” O’Reilly says. “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.” He says more but I’m not in the habit of repeating assininity—and that’s exactly what it was—no matter how well- intentioned. Really, how much of your time should you give to a white man who compliments black people for being home-trained just like his people?
Hoping for Imus-like ratings, media coverage was predictably swift but they missed the real story and settled for the typical whites said / blacks said spectacle. I’m not saying that reporters shouldn’t solicit reaction from blacks but, exclusively so? There are two experts on white racism: blacks and whites. We know what blacks think about it. We know what the extreme minority of whites in KKK groups think. It’s time that we normalized including the range of whites’ opinions when fomenting conversation around racial incidents.
Interview academics and activists like David Roediger or Tim Wise. Head to the all-white suburbs and solicit reaction from the diners at an Italian restaurant. Racism, particularly the unintentional kind kicked out by O’Reilly, is white folks’ problem to fix amongst themselves. Yet they’re rarely, if ever at the center of the media’s race conversation.
The real story wasn’t O’Reilly so much as the delusional-but-normal-by-our-culture’s-standards white people who head-nodded during his broadcasted break with reality. News reports should focus on who they are and why they irrationally box all blacks into stereotypes that allow them to feel superior. Why do they need an O’Reilly to let them know that “they’re just like us”?
Which brings me back to answering my own question about giving time to ignorant people like O’Reilly. Regardless of how stupid his comments were, O’Reilly was being genuine on his radio show. He sincerely envisioned himself a bridge-builder for “people who don’t have a lot of interaction with black Americans.” That’s redeeming, right? Tell that to the strong part of me that resents having to hand hold O’Reilly and his blinders-wearing brood through an Aha! moment that should’ve occurred by now. How patient should I be?