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My first big story in the news business was the L.A. riots more than 20 years ago. I thought I’d seen just about everything in this business. But this past Saturday night on CNN I experienced something for the first time in life really.
I had a conversation with someone who admitted that they hated themselves.
Orville Lloyd Douglass, a black Canadian who still lives in Canada, originally got my attention after he wrote an article for Britain’s Guardian Newspaper entitled “I Hate Being A Black Man.”
He wrote: “I can honestly say that I hate being a black male. I just don’t fit into a neat category of the stereotypical views people have of black men. In popular culture, black men are recognized in three areas: sports, crime and entertainment. I hate rap music, I hate most sports, and I like listening to rock music such as PJ Harvey…”
My first question to him was what was who do you blame for your self-hatred? His answer, “I think it manifests from society.” To get clarity I asked him if he hated being black or did he just hate the negative stereotypes about black men?
BINGO. He admitted that it was just the stereotypes.
“In pop culture there are, um, the stereotypical image of a black male is to be aggressive, is to be arrogant, is to not to be a nice person. And I just feel like as though there are a lot of black males out there such as myself who don’t conform to those sexist and racist stereotypes.”
As you can imagine, Douglass is being pilloried on social media by people calling him everything but a child of God. When I tweeted that I’d be interviewing him, some of the first responses were get him Don. Go in on him. And so on (typical, especially of Twitter.)
But, it is the worst thing I could have done, and it’s the last thing that this young man needed. What he needed was someone to be curious about why he feels the way he feels and not judgmental about it.
Had I been judgmental I might not have allowed him the valid point that his experience is one of living in Canada and not America, that Americans think they are the de facto black people of the world when they are not, and that in many ways racism or the discussion of it is perhaps more taboo in Canada than it is here in the U.S.
Orville Lloyd Douglass, whatever he’s dealing with, self-hatred or an identity crisis, or whatever it is. He has the right to feel however he feels. He has the right to say or write whatever he wants. And critics, quite frankly, can react however they’d like as well.
But what’s not so clear to many who take to social media and other forms of media to criticize Douglass is that it’s not really about what you think of him. It’s not about criticizing him or calling him names. It’s about the discussion he has prompted and what we all can learn from it.
It’s about elevating the conversation and not slinging dirt. I may not necessarily agree with everything or anything wrote or said, but boy I learned a lot. Did you?
Now here’s my last question: Would you change if you could?