#BlackTwitter has long been a facet of social media that many have found incredibly interesting. It seems to be mainly associated with the remarkable ability black users have to create interesting, entertaining and trending conversation on the platform. It’s latest project, #DonLemonOn, shows all the signs of other extremely popular #BlackTwitter hashtags: It’s funny, snarky, disarmingly enlightening, and users have made creating the best tweets a highly competitive game of wits.
It all started when Don Lemon commented on the highly controversial stop-and-frisk policy, partially defending the law by connecting it to lowered crime rates in New York, a myth that has been debunked before (see http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598 Tip: I found this with Google by typing in stop and frisk and crime rates to see if maybe Lemon’s claim could be substantiated. I like to call this investigative research.) Still, the idea persists in many spaces that stop-and-frisk is a necessary evil to keep the streets safe. Don Lemon summed up this redirect with a simple question: “Would you rather be politically correct or safe and alive?”
The problem with this false dichotomy, beyond it being a false dichotomy, is that it reinforces this idea that the persecution of minorities, in particular minority men, is necessary for the “safety” of the general population. It is this kind of problematic thinking that led to the murder of Trayvon Martin. It is this kind of problematic thinking that leads to African Americans being persecuted for marijuana possession at four times the rate of their Caucasian counterparts. Though I’m sure he had hoped to be “nuanced” in his evaluation, Don Lemon, and those who think like him, fail to understand the hypocrisy in their statements: How can attacking innocent American citizens be justified by trying to protect innocent American citizens?
Simple. It can’t.
What is particularly disconcerting about Lemon is that he is an African American man and one could argue that the vehemence of the backlash is precisely because of this fact. I would agree. If a white man on Fox News had made Lemon’s statement, they would get no hashtag, just a sigh and slight rolling of eyes. The difference is, by virtue of being an educated, well-spoken black man, many uninformed viewers could be convinced that Lemon’s endorsement of this inherently racist policy for the sake of the “greater good” is reasonable. The people of #BlackTwitter know that, in this way, Lemon is setting himself up as the “reasonable black folks” voice. When we assert our real concerns with laws that persecute us, Don Lemon could be held as the opposition. “Don Lemon gets it,” we’d be told. “Don Lemon understands that America isn’t racist, but cautious.” Don Lemon, by virtue of being on CNN and being a black man, has the potential to render racially conscious African Americans irrational.
Or he would have if not for the power of hashtags.
What #DonLemonOn does, in addition to entertaining people everywhere, is reveal why false dichotomies are ridiculous. It demands we not simplify our issues with hypocritical statements that ignore the complexities of the issues. It challenges those of us with considerable media power to beware of what we say. In a way only #BlackTwitter could pull off, it informs the world, with a conglomerate of 144 character sound-bites, that those who actively seek out the complexities of the problem are not the irrational ones.
I’m sure Don Lemon was simply attempting to pose a question that encouraged us to think about how much we value our safety. He even qualifies his argument with the acknowledgement that people are indeed persecuted by the law and that, in itself, is not okay. But this thoughtfulness gets lost when it is paired with justifications for the laws continuance. Instead (whether or not that is his intent) his inquiry changes. Instead he really asks those who would be negatively affected by stop-and-frisk measures a much more complicated question: If we have to choose between liberty and death, are we REALLY going to choose liberty?
#BlackTwitter answers him with #DomLemoOn. It says, with its trademark tongue-in-cheek flair:
We’ll take both. Thanks.