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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bill O'Reilly in Harlem

I'm thinking the most uncomfortable topic for folks in this country to discuss candidly - besides sexual preferences - is race relations. So let's keep talking. We started with Jena yesterday. Let's keep it going. In fact, if we can all stomach it, let's discuss this topic for the rest of the week.

So, issue of the day, for me, anyway: Bill O'Reilly's comments on his radio show the other day about his experience dining with Al Sharpton at Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem, NY. If you don't wanna click the link, the abbreviated version is that Sylvia's is an old, black-owned soul food restaurant in Harlem. Most of Sylvia's patrons are black. It is a restaurant. People go in, the sit, they order, they eat, they drink, they converse, they pay, and they leave. That's about as dramatic as it gets. After dining at Sylvia's, O'Reilly commented - and I'm paraphrasing here - on his radio show that he was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the tame atmosphere in Sylvia's. He was impressed that all the black folks there were well-behaved and not acting out like boisterous, rowdy rappers. He was struck that the atmosphere in Sylvia's was no different than that of any other nice eatery in New York, and he noted that Sylvia's had as nice an atmosphere as any Italian restaurant in any predominantly white suburb.

Now, here's the thing. A lot of the bluster and outrage over what O'Reilly had to say alleged racism on his part. I don't think so. Whether or not you think he is a racist isn't important to me. But in this particular incident, if you take ALL of his comments in full context, the Sylvia's bit was just a part of his monologue decrying stereotypes and racism.

However, I think to try to make this about O'Reilly allegedly being racist is disingenuous and misses the point. I don't believe the man is racist. On the other hand, I don't care if he is, 'cause nothing he says or does directly impacts me.

Only two things bothered me about O'Reilly's comments: that in 2007, an educated, worldly-wise guy like him would be genuinely shocked that the mostly black patronage at Sylvia's was on its best behavior when he dined there, and that many white people form their notions of black folks based on prevalent media images of black rappers.

So here's my question and concern? Is O'Reilly right? Seriously, do a majority of white people in this country think a majority of black folks are like bumbling rappers? 'Cause if he's right - and remember, he's an educated guy who's been around the block - then I can't imagine what "less fortunate" white people must think of us.

Don't get it twisted. I'm not walking around chewing my nails and worrying that white people will think I fling my poop against the wall, wear bearskin loincloths to work, and eat my steak raw. But considering the unnecessary racial tension that still permeates the air all across this country, if we can do away with just one more stereotype it could help.

I really don't have any more to say about this one, other than to reiterate that I hope O'Reilly's wrong about the rapper assertion. And if you're ever in New York try Sylvia's. I love the place and would order the entire menu on each visit, if I could.

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  • Stereotype or not, it's his problem. Fortunately there are places in Atlanta where one can still get sweet potato pie, fried pork chops a few great smiles and a "great to see you again."

    By Blogger Mickysolo, at 4:27 PM  

  • It's all about the class of people.

    I've been to white establishments with white people act like loud obnoxious fools, It's about the class of people that patronize the restaurant.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 5:05 PM  

  • Sylvia's..sounds nice.

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 5:45 PM  

  • Gotta agree there with commenter #2 - I've seen people from all races, all walks of life act horridly in a restaurant and I've also seen people from those same groups all act like perfect ladies and gentlemen too! Upbringing -or "fetchin' up" -in my opinion is really key to this issue. However, and this is due to my extreme dislike of Bill O'Reilly - we won't go into the various names I tend to call him - but fair-minded isn't something that tends to immediately pop up in my mind when I hear his name -I find the way he discussed this issue, the wording here, distasteful, disdainful and overlording like it's "Here am I - white and upstanding and perfect and oh gee, my gosh, my golly, here's some black people who can act almost as good as I do." That may not have been his intent, but boy, from my stance, it sure could be somewhat interpreted in that manner. Maybe it is really just because I don't like him though too.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 5:56 PM  

  • I think both Hammer and Jeni have touched a part of my view on the subject.

    I think the class struggle has overcome racism as the big issue in America in the last decade. Unfortunately the difference has been difficult to see because in a large majority of cases, minorities fall into the poorer class levels.

    For people like Bill O' Reilly with money that puts them out of touch with reality they only see other classes on TV.

    The big 4, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX have so few shows that show a completely black cast that the only time Bill is going to get to see a channel that shows a lot of black people is if he hits BET on his travels up and down the dial.

    The only thing I have ever seen on BET is the "boisterous rowdy rappers" that Bill seems to have expected.

    Want to change Bill's view about black people? Get the writers of Friends together with a casting agent that will hire black people.

    But that's just the opinion of a big white guy who lives in the real world rather than among the rich delusional pundits.

    By Blogger Wavemancali, at 7:30 PM  

  • I am having trouble thinking that people don't think of other people as individuals, rather than as a homogeneous group. If you put all Americans together, do we all sing rock and roll? Did we suddenly get grey? If I aggregate all blacks in the United States, what color are they actually? If I bring together all of the Irish in the country, are they all Catholic? Am I merely being redundant?

    When is the pilgrimage to Sylvia's? I like eating well.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 8:16 PM  

  • Maybe it's because I live in a "blue" state, but in my experience I have discovered that my fellow whites do not base their opinions of black folks on bumbling rappers and ne'er do wells.

    I have heard white folks (including myself) who have said things that are ignorant or ill-conceived, but more often than not they are awkward statements made with good intentions and not attempts to belittle or hurt.

    By Blogger qofd, at 8:50 PM  

  • Okay, so O'Reilly is not a racist. But how does someone as old as Bill O'Reilly manage to have so little contact with black people that he is actually surprised that they behave just as civilized as white people? That says more about him and how he lives his life than anything he has said on his crazy show.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 8:51 PM  

  • Ok, I meant "majority of my fellow white folks". Clearly, I've been around long enough to hear some pretty heinous crap, but those people are the exception and not the rule.

    By Blogger qofd, at 8:51 PM  

  • Well, personally I think Bill O'Reilly is an ass, so I can't give much credit to what he has to say.

    By Anonymous Karmyn R, at 9:37 PM  

  • You have a habit of posting stuff that gets me on a soapbox. I'm not going to stand on it tonight. But I am going to say that anyone who listens to O'reilly's dribble is an idiot. I will also say that having an education doesn't mean your smart and open minded. It means you can pass classes and you were fortunate enough to be able to afford it. Stupid people raise stupid kids all the time regardless of color or ethnicity. oops, getting on that soapbox.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:47 PM  

  • I think it really comes from people like O'Reilly say things like he did mostly because they have very little contact with people who are not rich and white and live in gated communities in the suburbs. I don't think O'Reilly is a racist as much as he's an elitist. He would be just as shocked if he went to a small, poor town in the south and nobody was barefoot, wearing overalls and eating with their hands.

    Also, the reaction to O'Reilly is about the same as last year when Joe Biden seemed SHOCKED that a black man like Barak Obama could actually be articulate and well mannered.

    By Blogger Jay, at 10:49 PM  

  • "do a majority of white people in this country think a majority of black folks are like bumbling rappers?"

    Let's hope not. As college campuses struggle with racial incidents, we may be seeing more of this among the educated unless attempts are made to chip away at the stereotypes.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 6:46 AM  

  • Everything I can think of this incident is biased because I cannot see the point of Bill O'Reilly's existence - except to remind me that the 1st Amendment applies to everyone and that I can't go around slapping anyone I want. I wish I had something more intelligent to say (I wish he did too). My thing is, why hasn't anyone gone on TV and called him an idiot for even thinking that? Instead of worrying that others may be thinking the same thing why don't we just say that it's a stupid way to think? When we worry about it and try to judge our behavior based on someone else's perceptions don't we lower ourselves? So call him an idiot and then go out to dinner and act however you want.

    By Blogger WNG, at 9:18 AM  

  • "Seriously, do a majority of white people in this country think a majority of black folks are like bumbling rappers?"

    It depends on the people; those that believe everything they see on TV probably do. The MSM tends to show only two views of black people; successful professionals, or "gangstas", and they tend to glorify the "ganstas".
    Just my opinion.

    By Blogger BobG, at 1:19 PM  

  • I'm aghast that anyone would lump all black people together. There is one 50 Cent and one Mohammad Ali, one Bill Cosby and one OJ Simpson. None of these men has much in common.

    I think O'Reilly's remarks were condescending. I wonder if he's ever been to a Cracker Barrel, an aptly-named chain of good ole boy restaurants in the South, and would he conclude that all white people were rude rednecks?

    I think not.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 6:07 PM  

  • mickysolo, those are the places i love in ATL.

    hammer, i agree that class is a dividing issues, naturally. i don't think there'd have been as much hubbub if o'reilly had made that distinction. i heard his whole segment. i get the context he says he meant things in, but it doesn't change the fact that he expressed awe not that the restaurant had a high class of people. instead he seemed surprised that it had a high class of black people. if it was just about class, everyone with good sense in this country would have agreed with him, 'cause class knows no single look.

    cazzie, sylvia's is a lovely place.

    jeni, like i told hammer, i agree that class is the more important distinction to make. o'reilly's problem was he didn't make that distinction. if he'd said he was stunned to see classy people in there, it still might have been tasteless. but he wouldn't have gotten blasted if he hadn't suggested it was surprising that black folks were well-behaved.

    wavemancali, again, i agree class is a bigger issue. but i disagree that it has overtaken race as the issue. at least it hasn't across the board. there are still too many people in this country who make their definitions of class and race synonymous, as though being one color gives you an automatic measure of credibility and being another color takes away "points" before you even get started. i do think it's funny that BET is owned by a white guy though, or at least owned by a network that is owned by a corporation that is owned by a white guy.

    monty, i wish you were right - that most of us see other folks as individuals. i think a lot more of us have that vision than in the past, but still not a majority. and next time i'm in nyc i'll give advance notice on the blog - anyone in the vicinity who wants to meet me out for a blogger gathering of beverages and later food at sylvia's is welcome to join me.

    queen, that's encouraging to hear that most people you see in your area don't lump folks together. seriously, there's hope yet, i guess.

    grizz, i think we were shocked on the same level. this was like an episode of friends. how can a guy who lives in the greater nyc area and works in nyc really, seriously be shocked at seeing a gathering of well-behaved black folks.

    karmyn r, your vote is duly noted ;-)

    myreflectingpool, your soapbox is always welcome here. that's what keeps this neighborhood lively.

    jay, good point about the self-imposed isolation. and you're right. this is a lot like the joe biden thing, which ironically i remember o'reilly talking about on his radio show and defending biden.

    sarc, i hope not either. i really hope he's wrong.

    wng, people have taken him to task for it, just not on his own show.

    bobg, you know i think we're often on the same page. but as a member of the msm, i have to defend us a bit on this one. i have a bias being a print guy first and an occasional broadcast guy second. but i think newspapers have gotten a little better in making fair, accurate portrayals - accurate being the key - of different races/cultures in our pages. we could do a lot better. but i do think we do just a little better than some of our broadcast counterparts.

    heartsinsanfran, i can honestly say i've never walked into a room full of white people and made a general judgment about them all. my brain isn't wired that way. now, i admit that after i got settled in and let my guard down a little i have been in that situation where i later looked around the room and one by one studied and "judged" everyone i saw. but no group judgments. i hate that too.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:03 AM  

  • Most all the people I know, most of them white, don't lump black people into the rapper, hood, gangsta stereotype. They, including the black folks I know, lump them into the "please let us get them graduated and fending for themselves" stereotype.
    Perhaps because I live in an insulated world, but, heck, any intelligent normal person should be able to delineate between the strange entertainers we seem to have on all sides and regular normal people.
    I can't speak for some of the areas of the unincorporated county surrounding us, though. But most of Texas is normal.

    By Anonymous Kim, at 10:18 PM  

  • And by "lumping" I meant lumping all our kids, not just the black kidlets, since as how ours are white and our friends' are black. I knew I didn't phrase that right. We're all in the throes of getting our, mostly boys, out of college.

    By Anonymous Kim, at 10:20 PM  

  • "I fling my poop against the wall, wear bearskin loincloths to work, and eat my steak raw"

    You say this like it's a bad thing. I do two of the three things above, and I'm as cracker white as the belly of a toad. Wuzzat have to do with anything?

    By Anonymous og, at 8:50 PM  

  • I've listened to Bill for years. He believes that the race struggle in this country has less to do with race and more to do with class. I disagree. His premise that whites would generally accept blacks but for the low-life stereotypes promoted by the film and music industry, is naive at best. Whites have had more than 200 years to get to know us and if they don't know us by now, it's because they don't care to know us. And that's fine by me!

    By Anonymous TheFirstDomino, at 6:30 AM  

  • Growing up in a homogenous population, I still remember the first time I really SAW a black man.... I remember the first time I touched a black person--when I was 17.

    It was news to our liberal white junior class in high school history one day that... most black people have jobs. For some reason, the conversation swung around to blacks and our teacher ticked off some "amazing" and "shocking" facts about black people, including the bit about having jobs and paying taxes like everyone else.

    Anyway, people have some funny ideas about other people when they only see them through media. As a small boy and diehard fan of Fat Albert, I thought all blacks looked like Bill Cosby, clones of the man varying only by height, age and sex.

    But you'd think O'Reilly would be somewhat... educated.

    By Blogger M@, at 3:52 PM  

  • I think the point here is to go out and actually get to know different types of people. If you only see one example of a whole group of people, it's very easy to make the jump in your head that they are all like that, even if you know it's false. I live in a mostly white neighborhood and I don't have many black friends (or friends of other races either), so most of what I see is from tv or from work (I work in the records division of my local city's police bureau) so you can see that most of what I see isn't the best of any person, no matter what color they are. It's hard to not be judgemental when you don't actually know many people from a group that's different than you. So that's why I think we just need to get to know people that are different from us. That way when we see ourselves thinking in a stereotypical way, we can stop ourselves because we know it's false because the people we know aren't like that. Hope that made sense and didn't offend many people.

    By Anonymous Beth in the NW, at 2:36 PM  

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