It started with Bill O'Reilly's grandmother. And it blew up into charges of O'Reilly being called a racist and me being attacked as a "Happy Negro" (read that as a lackey or Uncle Tom).
O'Reilly, controversial host of the top-rated TV cable talk show on Fox News Channel, interviewed me on his radio show about a woman-hating, N-word-spouting rapper being hired by McDonald's for a celebrity endorsement. O'Reilly has been on a crusade against big companies legitimizing a crass, hateful and pornographic popular culture by putting stars like Snoop Dogg, the pornographer/rapper, in their ads.
Sad to say, but a lot of today's rappers fit the bill.
They make their name by bragging about how many people they've killed, how many times they've been shot and how many "bitches" they've abused. And those rappers, along with no-talent black comedians who use the N-word and profanity constantly, are creating a very negative image of black people in music, in music videos and in the movies.
So, O'Reilly says to me that the reality to black life is very different from the lowlife behavior glorified by the rappers. He told me he was at a restaurant in Harlem recently and there was no one shouting profanity, no one threatening people. Then he mentioned going to an Anita Baker concert with an audience that was half black, and in sharp contrast to the corrosive images on TV, well dressed and well behaved.
I joked with O'Reilly that for him, a guy from Long Island, a visit to Harlem was like a "foreign trip." That's when he brought up his grandma. He said she was prejudiced against black people because she knew no flesh-and-blood black folks but only the one-dimensional TV coverage of black criminals shooting each other and the rappers and comedians glorifying "gangsta" life and thug cool. He criticized his grandmother as irrational for being afraid of people she really did not know.
I defended his grandma.
After watching all those racist, minstrel images of black people, I argued, she is right to buy into stereotypes of blacks as ignorant, oversexed and violent. And I said while I worried about his grandma having racist images justified in her mind I had bigger worries.
The most pernicious damage being done by the twisted presentation of black life in pop culture is the self-destructive message being beamed into young, vulnerable black brains. Young black people, searching for affirmation of their racial identity, are minute by minute being sold on the cheap idea that they are authentically black only if they imitate the violent, threatening attitude of the rappers and use the gutter language coming from the minstrels on TV.
The lesson from the rappers and comedians is that any young brother or sister who is proud to be black has to treat education with indifference, dismiss love and marriage as the business of white people and dress like the rappers who dress like prisoners no comb in the jail so they wear doo-rags all day, and no belts so their pants hang down around their butts.
That was the heart and soul of the conversation between O'Reilly and me. The point of the whole exchange was to defeat corrupt, untrue and racist images of real black people.
So imagine how totally astounded I was when I heard O'Reilly was attacked on the basis of that radio conversation as a "racist." He was slammed for saying he went to a restaurant in Harlem and had a good time. He was slammed for saying the audience at the concert was nicely dressed. The suggestion was that O'Reilly had racist preconceptions about the restaurant and the concert crowd.
That twisted assumption led me to say publicly that the attacks on O'Reilly amounted to an effort to take what he said totally out of context in an attempt to brand him a racist by a liberal group that disagrees with much of his politics. But the out-of-context attacks on O'Reilly picked up speed and ended up on CNN, where one commentator branded me a "Happy Negro" for allowing O'Reilly to get by with making racist comments without objection.
This is so far from the truth of the conversation on the radio that it is beyond a matter of words being taken out of context. This is a pathetic cowardly, personal attack against me intended to damage my credibility and invalidate any support I offer to O'Reilly against the charges that he is a racist.
For the record, I am a black man who lives in a black neighborhood in a mostly black city, and is married to a black woman. I am also the author of several books and documentaries on the civil rights movement. And any viewer of the O'Reilly TV show knows that O'Reilly and I respect, even like, each other but are frequently at loud, finger-pointing odds over politics and people.
But this is an attempt to take down O'Reilly and dismiss anyone offering him support me. This is along the lines of telling anyone who calls attention to the excesses of hip-hop culture a "self-hating" black man and skewering anyone who dares to say there is a crisis in black America because of the high dropout rates, high crime rates and high out-of-wedlock birth rates.That is what happened to another well-known Bill, Bill Cosby, after he spoke out about the self-destructive images and behavior in the black community.
The critics want to shut up Cosby, O'Reilly, me and anyone else who points out the crisis in black America. They want anyone who dares to speak publicly about problems in black America to fear being called a racist, if they are white, or a "Happy Negro" if they are black. They want silence so they can continue to make money by distorting black life and allowing black on black murder rates to climb along with the black dropout rate and the black poverty rate.
The critics want to paralyze efforts to help those locked in poverty and too often in a criminal culture where acceptance of drug use and violence becomes acceptable. They don't want black people to be known as Americans with a long distinguished history of patriotism, reverence for education and a willingness to fight for America's ideals justice for all despite the harsh facts of slavery and legal segregation.
They prefer to bash anyone who points out their tragic, mindless willingness to sell out the history and pride of black people to make a buck. But take this from the "Happy Negro." The critics are some Sad People.
Williams is a senior correspondent for NPR, an analyst for Fox News and the author of Enough