Catching Up with Don Lemon

As one of the few Blacks left on on CNN, anchor Don Lemon seems extremely comfortable playing the role of devil’s advocate rather than being a voice of reason for the Black community.

His controversial viewpoints, from the legitimacy of the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk program to defending a White reporter’s error in mistaking actor Samuel L. Jackson for Laurence Fishburne, have led to numerous Black Twitter followers branding him a sellout.

It wasn’t until Gregg Jarrett of Fox News tried to check the 48-year-old newsman— by calling him a “pompous, pretentious jerk” because of his emotional, on-air outrage over the Michael Dunn verdict— that we saw how Lemon’s often misunderstood audacity might actually provide the type of message we’ve been waiting so long to receive.

JET: What’s your response to critics who say you’re too negative about the Black community?

Don Lemon: A lot of it has been taken out of context; people hear what they want to hear. I am not criticizing the Black community. I was hired by the Tom Joyner Morning Show to do commentary that makes people think. I want my audience to feel like they are learning and not being pandered to.

JET: Your on-air battles with commentator Marc Lamont Hill have become epic. Why do you keep inviting him back?

DL: I like Marc because he gets that there is supposed to be diversity of thought without hate. We disagree on some things, but not all things. I like his perspective and we have great chemistry on the air.

JET: Has the Twitter backlash ever caused you to reconsider your standards?

DL: I’m not afraid of criticism. I actually like it. I wish everyone could experience the level of assessment I get because it actually has made me a better person. I like to provoke the conversation and create a dialogue. That doesn’t always come from people preaching to the choir and having everyone in agreement.

JET: What are the stories that you are most passionate about and why?

DL: I’m most passionate about issues that pertain to women and children, especially because I know how tough it was for my mother, who raised me on her own. Also, stories about racial and identity perception are important because people don’t always examine why they feel or think a certain way. People have biases and prejudices, but are not aware of them. Everyone sees the world through a certain lens.

JET: Do you remember your first, most vivid memory of JET?

DL: I remember the covers and just seeing the magazine littered throughout my house growing up. You may not have the latest issue of JET, but you could sill pick it up and find something current and stories that you could relate to.

JET: If you could interview anyone from the archives of Black history, who would it be?

DL: There’s Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., James Baldwin and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They all did things that were not always popular or celebrated in their day. I would ask Dr. King in particular about his thoughts around the idea of diversity and how it’s not just about skin tone, but also diversity of thought.

JET: What’s the biggest misconception about you?

I’m no different from anyone else. People assume because of where I stand on certain issues, I must have grown up wealthy. But, I came from very humble roots and I worked very hard to get to where I am. Your beginnings have no limitation on how far you can go.

The “Don Lemon Show” airs Mondays at 10:00 p.m. ET on CNN.