Title: THIS IS THE FIRE: What I Say To My Friends About Racism by Don Lemon
Publisher: Little Brown & Company
In a nutshell (Publisher):
In this ‘vital book for these times’ (Kirkus Reviews), Don Lemon brings his vast audience and experience as a reporter and a Black man to today’s most urgent question: How can we end racism in America in our lifetimes?
The host of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon is more popular than ever. As America’s only Black prime-time anchor, Lemon and his daily monologues on racism and antiracism, on the failures of the Trump administration and of so many of our leaders, and on America’s systemic flaws speak for his millions of fans. Now, in an urgent, deeply personal, riveting plea, he shows us all how deep our problems lie, and what we can do to begin to fix them.
Beginning with a letter to one of his Black nephews, he proceeds with reporting and reflections on his slave ancestors, his upbringing in the shadows of segregation, and his adult confrontations with politicians, activists, and scholars. In doing so, Lemon offers a searing and poetic ultimatum to America. He visits the slave port where a direct ancestor was shackled and shipped to America. He recalls a slave uprising in Louisiana, just a few miles from his birthplace. And he takes us to the heart of the 2020 protests in New York City. As he writes to his young nephew: We must resist racism every single day. We must resist it with love.
Inspired by James Baldwin’s ‘The Fire Next Time’, published in 1963, ‘THIS IS THE FIRE’ is divided into 7 chapters – Do I But Dream (a letter to his nephew); We Didn’t Get Here by Accident; My Lord, What a Mourning When the Stars Begin to Fall; Seeking Justice in the Land of Law and Order; Of Movies, Myths, and Monuments; About the Benjamins, and How Change Happens.
Part autobiographical and a study of racism (he delved into American history and recent cases of racism) Lemon shared some of his personal stories in this book and offered his own perspective on what he thought of racism, antiracism, Trump, and what we can do to fix the virus that’s afflicting all Americans.
What I enjoyed most were his personal stories he shared like how George Floyd’s death deeply affected him; the emotional trip to Ghana he took with his mother after visiting “Door of No Return”, the last place natives walked on their homeland before boarding slave ships bound for America; his sister Leisa’s death in 2018; the time when he was elected as class president and the White parents fussed about “some Black kid” (meaning him); and when his professor told him, “I don’t know why you’re here. You’re not going to make it in this business”, and the part when he wasn’t allowed into a boutique selling upscale kitchenware, apparently due to Covid-19 rules, but later saw a White lady inside shopping.
Throughout the book, you can feel his frustration and exasperation, and at one point he pleaded, “Please, my Black brothers and sisters, tell me at what point our activism will cease to require holding up our own as martyrs?” and “Who’s paying attention if we’re not looking, dying, or putting on a show?”
One of my favorite parts in the book was when he spoke to Chenjerai Kumanyika, an assistant professor in Rutgers University’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies about the origins of modern policing that originated from the pre-Civil War slave patrols. When the Philadelphia Police Department was formed in the 1854, one of the strict rules in its advertisement was there should be no immigrants, and there were no Black people on that force.
“Those police departments were created to keep those people in line, not to protect them. Even when those people were facing violence, facing Jim Crow, facing lynching, facing poverty – if they got out of line, they would be brought back into line by the police.”
And Lemon summed it perfectly, “If you’re living in a Jim Crow society and the police bring order to that, all you have is a nice orderly Jim Crow society.”
The chapter on ‘Movies, Myths and Monuments’ was also one of my favorites. In it, he mentioned about the movie of “The Color Purple”, although there was nothing he can criticize about it, at the end of the day, it’s “White man’s version of an intimate Black experience”. Quoting him, “To me, it feels like that upscale ceramic tile that’s made to look like wood.” He opined that, “…sometimes you have to be brave enough to be quiet and carry water for someone else whose voice deserves to be heard.” Let the original voices and views be seen and heard from their point of view and experience; let it not be tainted, nor romanticized, or stereotyped.
In ‘About the Benjamins’ where he shared about his experience about not being let into a boutique, I learned about the movie ‘Imitation of Life’, a movie based on a novel by Fannie Hurst. Bea (a penniless white widow) sampled a pie made by Delilah (her Black housekeeper) and loved it, asking Delilah for the recipe, who was reluctant to share at first, but which she ultimately did. The recipe led to the opening of Bea’s restaurant which became a big success.
Lemon wrote of two moments which stuck with him: when Bea kept making Delilah give her the smile she wanted for the camera, despite Delilah’s reluctance, when taking profile shots for the launch of her company; and when Bea was walking up the grand staircase in her home, and Delilah went down another, which he described as “a striking image”.
Lemon then offered some food for thought:
“Is [the movie] a brilliantly subversive statement about racism, sexism and intersectional alliance? Or is it a conscience-fluffing parable about happy a Black person is under the wing of a benevolent White patron who loves her “like family” and provides beautifully appointed living quarters in a remodeled basement?”
Before reading this book, I’ve never heard of watermelons being associated with Blacks (only once casually mentioned by a friend) nor the racist ice-cream truck jingle which originated from the song Turkey in the Straw, nor have I heard about the Monopoly analogy on racism and bootstrapping.
Overall, an insightful read, one you’d expect from Don Lemon. Although he offered no solution nor policies, this book is great for those interested in educating educate themselves on racism, especially if you’ve just started. If you love reading about another person’s perspective on the same topic, this might be right up your alley too.
Don Lemon will make you see how racist our society is, and how, if we don’t take action, or continue to lie to ourselves that we aren’t racist, this virus will only kill us all in the end. ‘THIS IS THE FIRE’ is Lemon’s call for us all to take action, NOW. His sense of urgency couldn’t be timelier.Tweet
Thank you, Little Brown & Company, and Jessica Chun for a copy of Don Lemon’s ‘THIS IS THE FIRE’ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!