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TOtimes Books: THIS IS THE FIRE by Don Lemon


Practically every weeknight, around 10 p.m., my TV is tuned to CNN, in particular “CNN Tonight”, the nightly commentary/interview show that’s anchored by Don Lemon, who has been with the network for 15 years.

Particularly, I look forward to watching his nightly opening remarks called “Don’s Take”, in which he offers his take on the events and issues of the day that’s delivered in his inimitable, sometimes snarky, but always no-B.S. style. But what I like about watching those opening 10-15 minutes of the show is that Lemon backs up his arguments not with heat-of-the-moment, off-the-top-of-your-head rhetoric, but with cold hard facts (that’s sometimes accompanied with video clips to as a further means of proof).

It’s Lemon’s nightly commentaries that remind me of heralded veteran TV newsmen like Howard K. Smith and Eric Sevareid during the golden age of network TV newscasts of the 60s and 70s: well thought-out, fact-laden opinions that were delivered in a cool, rational manner without fear or favour to anyone or anything.

Don Lemon is one of several people who have risen as journalistic voices of reason at a time in modern history that is so needed the most, especially during the past five years. With the wave of right-wing thinking and organizations that surfaced like a firestorm during the Trump presidency, not to mention the increase in racism that became an end result of the fear brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the too frequent (almost daily) occurrences of mass shootings, and the killing of Black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers, not to mention the recent conviction of Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement that have come about as a result, Don Lemon has been out front reporting and commenting on many of these related breaking stories. And he has done it with one thing in mind: to make sure his viewers get the straight story with as much facts and background research as possible, so that they can reach their own informed conclusions.

This is the Fire: What I say to My Friends About Racism by Don Lemon

And now, Lemon has taken to the printed page to explain what has motivated him to focus on the growing hot button issue of racism in America with his best-selling tome This is the Fire.

This compact, 213-page book reads like an extended version of one of his “CNN Tonight” opening monologues. In a way, it serves as a response to The Fire Next Time, the epic 1963 best seller by the late Black writer James Baldwin that offered his inimitable take on racism during the height of the Civil Rights movement, and offered a rather ominous warning on how ugly racism in America would get if it was left unnoticed and unsolved; in fact, Baldwin quoted this warning in the form of a Biblical song of a slave, which said “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time.”

“This is the fire. We’re in it. JFK and Obama led us to the rainbow; Trump forced us into the fire. And then he poured gasoline on it,” replies Lemon.

Throughout the book, Lemon states his case about the issue of systemic racism in the U.S. by doing what he does best, using personal examples and reaching out into the long lost annals of American history to show how ugly it has become over the past 400 years. Whether it be the visit Lemon and his mother did to the Slave Coast Castle in Ghana, where captured Africans were held until their tragic journey to slavery in the American colonies; or the story of Charles Deslondes, the inter racial Louisiana overseer who in 1811 led the largest slave uprising in American history; the hidden, scandalous stories of the racism behind such movie classics as “The Birth of a Nation” and “Gone with the Wind”; or how singer Lena Horne got kicked out of a USO tour during World War II because she complained that Black American soldiers were seated behind German prisoners of war in the venue where she performed (thereby not conforming to the image of a Black woman that was expected of her by White America at that time), Lemon uses such background research to effectively show the reader why history led up to Charlottesville, the evolution of Black Lives Matter, the growing spectre of racism and the tragic deaths of innocent people like George Floyd over the past few years.

But Lemon’s narrative doesn’t end with a “these are the facts; take it or leave it” approach. Instead, he offers readers who are tired of these constant fires that have burned modern American society the right amount of encouragement so that action can be taken to exntinguish these growing flames. “The answer is a new beginning,” he writes. “And that can be forged only in the crucible of compassionately radical change.”

This is the Fire” is an immensely readable, yet important book on how racism ails our world today and continues to do so even as I write these words. Don Lemon’s words serve as a clarion call to an informed people that they can help put out the fire of racism before it’s too late and burns out of control.

Book critic, Stuart Nulman
Stuart Nulman – info@mtltimes.ca

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