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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Rice


GREENSBORO, N.C. --- CNN Tonight's Don Lemon addressed the Power of Privilege during N.C, A&T's first program of the Chancellor Speaker Series, moderated by North Carolina A&T State University alum, Dr. Destiny-Simone Ramjohn.

The virtual discussion focused on five components of privilege: access, rights, participation, equity, and colorism. 

Growing up during the 1960s and 1970s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Don Lemon recognized many types of privilege and limitations to access opportunities because of his skin color. 

Lemon's family was not wealthy; however, they valued education and sent him to attend the newly integrated high school. The Ku Klux Klan used his academic campus as a meeting location to pass out literature. Despite his social and bias surroundings, Lemon became the second Black class president of Baker High School. 

In pursuit of a journalism degree, he faced scrutiny, criticism, and racism from his college university professors. Today, as CNN Tonight's anchor, he strives to level African-Americans' playing field by addressing the community's disadvantages through investigative reporting. 

In the wake of political unrest due to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, recent protests have reignited the long-standing need for checks and balances of the practices of power and privilege. 

"Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, but the FBI's data shows that 32% of the felons killed by officers in 2012 were Black. Fifty-two percent were white, and 12% were Hispanic," according to the FBI and Vox Media. 

Lemon believes how people participate in being advocates for minority communities has changed forever. He calls to action anyone who has experienced suppression to speak.

"When I see bias, misogyny, or discrimination, I speak up, and I call it out at the moment regardless of how you feel because if you don't do it at that moment, when are you going to do it?"

Many Americans assumed that the heightened turmoil would quickly run its course, but Lemon believes acceptance is the path to change.

"After a while, people will be lured back into their regular routines," Lemon said. 

"We can't go back to normal; we have to keep this subject front and center. You have to become anti-racist. People have to learn and understand how they're going to use their voice."

Equality and equity are essential in dismantling the power of privilege and are often used interchangeably; however, they differ in meaning. 

"Equity, in some cases, is a more important word than equality… 

Yes, there are people of all ethnicities who go through hardships and discrimination! But when it comes to black and brown people, it is different. There are individual members of this society no matter how poor you are; you have been able to have those opportunities.", Lemons said. 

The history of how colorism enables the societal effects of privilege was also discussed. 

In the 1900s, the paper bag test was used to determine if a Black person could be socially accepted as African American or white. African Americans that were black but had a lighter skin tone received daily privileges that darker-toned black people could only dream of. 

"Black people need to support each other, and it's not about hair texture, skin color, or lips. It used to be If you had big lips, people would make fun of you, but now people want big lips and are paying for it…It used to be that people would look at how dark you are and be in shock, and now people are getting tans to appear darker." Lemon said.

"So, as long as you are who you are and live in your truth, it all comes around. One day your time will come no matter what you look like!" Lemon said."

The discussion also included theories on how to disperse the power that privileged people hold. Through the expansion of access and people using privilege to support the most vulnerable, Lemon believes progression can be made through an inclusive society. He provided words of encouragement to all minority students and anyone facing adversity while striving for success. 

"I always tell students to stop seeing themselves as others," Lemon said. 

"Let the people like me worry about those things, if you have an issue, come to us, worry about being excellent. The cream always rises! I know that's hard to see when you see certain images in the media or read the history of this country."



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