Stephen A. Smith (Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Apparently, former sports journalist and current TV pundit Stephen A. Smith saw all the fun Don Lemon was having blaming black people for white people's behavior and wanted a piece, too.

This morning on ESPN's Sports Center, Smith commented on the recent Riley Cooper controversy, essentially blaming black people for Cooper's hurling of the n-word. "What level of responsibility do we harbor considering the fact that it's something we use ad nauseam in the presence of people outside of our community?" he asked. "At the end of the day … we have to … ask ourselves do we play a role in the ease that it comes out of other people's mouths."


Maybe Cooper said the word because black people around him say it (though this is doubtful because the way Cooper said it came straight out of Reconstruction, not from a football locker room or an NWA record) … Or maybe he said it because he thinks black people are n—gers.

Speaking personally, I'm thoroughly weary of people like Smith and Lemon putting the onus of white respectability on black people, as if black people haven't been trying to get whites to treat them respectfully for years. It won't matter if we pull our pants up and stop saying the n-word. It won't matter if we abandon the cultural tropes and tenets that certain black people are ashamed of.

Nobody is looking to blacks for examples of how to be a decent human being, for clues on how to treat black people respectfully, because if they were, they'd find plenty. I don't want any more women of color to be unlawfully sterilized. How do I have to act to make that stop? I haven't unlawfully sterilized anyone; nor has any person of color that I know. Why is it still happening?


I've never profiled, frisked or shot a black man because he looked suspicious. When will white people notice and stop doing the same? I've never closed a single black school in this wave of scores of school closings in Chicago. How long until my attempt at leading by example changes anything?

It is not the job of women to convince men not to rape them. It is not the job of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to persuade homophobes not to attack them. It is not the job of people of color to prove their decency to whites in hopes of being treated humanely. Expecting an oppressed group to change its behavior in order to end its oppression is the very nectar of privilege — so honey, somebody gave Lemon and Smith a heaping cupful.

All this becomes even more ridiculous when you remind yourself that Smith himself said the word on the air, then denied it, as if we didn't hear it with our own ears. So not only is Smith bad at placing blame for other people's actions in the proper laps; he's bad at accepting his own.


The continued respectability policing of the black community has been the topic of discussion on Twitter all day, with many black folk officially deciding that Smith and Lemon must be offered up as a package deal in the next racial draft. Unsurprisingly, there are still those who agree with Smith and Lemon, because yelling at people to stop saying the n-word is much easier than putting in the work to tackle the real problems.

Stephen Smith gotta get out of here, yo

— Valérie (@Vivaciously_Val) August 1, 2013

Tracy Clayton is a writer, humorist and blogger from Louisville, Ky.