Bill O'Reilly in Harlem
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.