Return to Transcripts main page


Race in America; Search for Flight 370; Talking Race on Capitol Hill

Aired April 30, 2014 - 22:00   ET



And, tonight, I want to have a conversation about race and how we talk about it.

First, listen to Donald Sterling.


DONALD STERLING, OWNER, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: If you don't feel -- don't come to my games. Don't bring black people, and don't come.


LEMON: Now listen to Cliven Bundy.


CLIVEN BUNDY, RANCHER: And I have often wondered, were they better off as slaves, picking cotton?


LEMON: Their words are clearly indefensible, but it's not just white men of a certain age. What about Paul Ryan talking about so-called inner city men who don't work or this from Congressman Bennie Thompson?


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI: And there's Uncle Tom Clarence Thomas.


LEMON: Some words are weapons. Said out loud, they can only be answered with something worse, words that end the conversation.

Well, tonight, we want to keep the conversation going.

We also have the very latest on the search for Flight 370. Ships from Bangladesh searching the Bay of Bengal, but is it another false lead in a case that has been full of them?

You have been tweeting us by the thousands about the plane and about Donald Sterling. And my experts are standing by to talk about tweets like one from Michele. "That's punishment, forced to sell. Donald Sterling would make more money than he deserves. Alienate himself from his own works."

I want to begin with the latest on the Sterling scandal. An NBA meeting tomorrow could be the first step in forcing Donald Sterling to sell the Clippers and names being tossed around include everybody from Oprah to Magic Johnson.

Here's CNN Ted Rowlands.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the NBA attempts to force Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, questions remain. Will he fight or delay a sale? What about his wife, Shelly? She showed up at last night's playoff game after getting permission from the Clippers' coach, Doc Rivers.

DOC RIVERS, L.A. CLIPPERS HEAD COACH: It's a tough one for Shelly, really. You know, she didn't do anything wrong either. And you have compassion for her.

ROWLANDS: Not everyone has compassion for Shelly Sterling. In a 2009 deposition for a federal lawsuit against the Sterlings' real estate corporation, Sterling's wife was accused of calling a tenant a "black M.F." after the tenant claims he asked for a reduction in rent. Shelly Sterling unequivocally denied ever using a racial slur. The Sterlings ended up settling.

ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: There have been no other decisions of members of the Sterling family and I should say that this ruling applies specifically to Donald Sterling.

ROWLANDS: Meanwhile, Donald Sterling's alleged mistress, V. Stiviano, is a new magnet for the paparazzi venturing out with a bizarre-looking colored visor covering her face. She said she would some day run for president of the United States.

Several people are reportedly expressing interest in owning the Clippers, including Oprah, David Geffen, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, and boxers Floyd Mayweather and Oscar de la Hoya.

OSCAR DE LA HOYA, BOXER: The Clippers need a face. They need a face. And what better face than my face?

ROWLANDS: Shaquille O'Neal says it doesn't matter who ends up owning the Clippers as long as it's not Donald Sterling.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, FORMER NBA PLAYER: The players and the fan, we own the game. The owners are just custodians.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.


LEMON: All right, of course, our thanks to Ted Rowlands.

Joining me now is Bomani Jones, ESPN analyst and the co-host of "Highly Questionable."

Bomani, you have been writing about this and speaking about this very passionately. Donald Sterling has been on your radar for some time now for a very long time and you have been covering him for years. Tell us what you thought when you heard these tapes this weekend.

BOMANI JONES, ESPN: Well, the tape itself, I think a lot of people were outraged by it, but if you were aware of the stuff that was in the court paperwork on the housing discrimination suits, the tapes was just like, oh, what do you know, Donald Sterling is still the same person, even though his basketball team is good, because I think a lot of people ignored that stuff because the team got good and they wanted to enjoy the fact that the team was good.

The tape itself was just really kind of bizarre. I thought it was actually fairly insightful to give you an idea of what somebody at that level thinks and how he's embarrassed by the idea that his arm piece could be with black people and then his friends would then pick on him about that.

It was almost like high school stuff. But I wasn't outraged by it in the way that a lot of other people were because there was a lot more outrageous stuff in his past.

LEMON: Yes. Back in 2006, you wrote about Donald Sterling and you called him out on charges of housing discrimination which we're learning about now. Why didn't that get more attention at the time, do you think?

JONES: That's a good question.

I think part of it is that housing discrimination lawsuits, you see the numbers within the millions of dollars. That doesn't really resonate and splash with people. What happened with the TMZ thing, that got people instantly. It was pretty overt language, it was clear and it didn't require any interpretation or a deeper understand of any sort of system.

People could hear that and they could jump on it and say, oh, my gosh, Donald Sterling is such an awful man. When you're talking about housing discrimination, you're talking about something that has step after step after step and is such a big problem that I think a lot of people don't realize that they saw that lawsuit and I think a lot of people just kind of charged it up to, hey, what's the big deal, even though that's one of the biggest deals in the country.

LEMON: What do you think is worse, though? Was it the housing discrimination charges or was it the comments that were caught on tape?

JONES: Well, I think if we're talking effectively about what happens in the world, the housing discrimination. The tape itself, the tape stuff is it candy. Some of that stuff you heard was a bit strange. And the way he talked about giving players stuff as opposed to paying them wages was I guess a bit disturbing. But ultimately, that was a crazy conversation between a crazy man and his mistress and their bizarre interactions.

The stuff with the housing suit and saying that black stink and attract vermin, saying that Mexicans just want to sit around and drink all day, and oh, by the way, inhibiting the livelihoods of people in this country, what happened on that tape is what it was. It was a TMZ story.

LEMON: I think the housing discrimination was for more egregious, because these actually -- that's people -- that's where they live, right?

These things he was mouthing off in his house or wherever he was, it's horrible, but I think the housing discrimination was worse.

Stand by, Bomani.

I want to bring in now Bo Kimble.

Bo, you played for Donald Sterling's Clippers back in the '90s and you co-founded 44 for Life, 44 for Life. In the 1990s, you were a first round draft pick chosen by the Clippers. While you didn't know it at the time, but you recently learned that Donald Sterling had a lot of impact on your playing time. Explain what you learned and how you learned it.

BO KIMBLE, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Well, first of all, I was very honored to be and very happy to be drafted by the Clippers, eighth pick, lottery pick. It was a very exciting time for me.

Little did I know that coming to a team that I thought needed scoring, and Donald was more concerned about saving the $300,000 bonus incentive that I had in my contract to play 15 minutes or less. He would save $300,000. So he wasn't worried about winning games, he was worried about saving 300 grand.

So from a business perspective, a great decision. From a team decision, it was very poor and it was a perfect example of poor management and why the Clippers had the kind of track record they had before the last few years.

LEMON: As a man who was -- at least we know he was a multimillionaire back in the '90s. He could have already been a billionaire. He was concerned about your playing time. That seems a bit petty, if not a bit cheap.

Did you know Donald Sterling to be a bigoted man?

KIMBLE: I did not.

I have had a lot of discussions in the last few days since this came out. Donald had been a very respectful to me in person. Unfortunately, he was harvesting these types of feelings for years. And it is unfortunate. For me, also, for me, when I was with the Clippers, he cost me millions of dollars.

By not playing me, not only did I not get a chance to be on the court, which was very important. It cost me in endorsements, it cost me an opportunity to have a second contract. And I was probably just one of a series of players that, in reality, they thought we were a bust, but we never got the chance to shine.

So imagine this. I come out of college, I'm a lottery pick, eighth pick. I averaged 35 numbers in college, numbers that no one has put up in 70 years. Yet, that being said, I can't even get on the court and contribute to a team that needs that type of scoring.

Now, what do you think would have happened if I had eight more minutes to play and been allowed to do the great things that I was blessed to do at Loyola Marymount with Paul Westhead? There was a lot of things that didn't happen, a lot of marketing and a lot of endorsements.

But at the end of the day it just didn't work out for me with the Clippers.

LEMON: I have to ask you if you can give me a quick answer because I have something else I want to ask Bomani. Do you think it was personal or do you think it was just all about the money?

KIMBLE: I think it was actually all about the money. Donald Sterling, hands down, is a very shrewd businessman. So, in that regard, nobody can take anything from him for that. But basketball- wise, he was very poor.

LEMON: Bo -- I have to get my Bo's straight.

Bomani, there's been a lot of talk about what will happen next. Do you think any member of the Sterling family should be allowed to continue on with the Clippers organization?

JONES: I would say that the argument is that we're getting rid of Donald Sterling for his rabid racism, then Shelly Sterling who is the one that in the paperwork is apparently going down door to door and marking down the ethnicities of people who rent that building, then, no, she can't be associated with the team.

It has been staggering the way she was there and Doc Rivers said he feels bad for Shelly. I don't know why the hell you feel bad for Shelly. They have been riding in tandem together playing the same game. Those two it seems like it would be impossible for them to be in charge of that team unless this NBA penalty is little more than public relations.

If it's serious about racism, then a fellow housing discriminator is not a person that you put there.

LEMON: Bo Kimble, thank you. Bomani Jones, stick around.

A lot more show to come. When we come back, right we will talk more about Donald Sterling, Donald Sterling to Paula Deen. Public figures pay a price for racism. But does that solve the problem?


LEMON: Welcome back, everyone.

Donald Sterling certainly is not the first prominent figure to be caught making racist remarks and he's not the only one to pay a heavy price.

What's the penalty when racism goes public?

CNN's Jean Casarez has the story now.


STERLING: Why are you taking pictures with minorities? Why?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Race, one subject in America that can get you fired, scorned, and now banned for life.


CASAREZ: Celebrity chef Paula Deen, cattleman Cliven Bundy and now L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, painful words carrying a price.

ROBERT THOMPSON, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: I think we have probably always had public figures who have been out there saying outrageous things when it comes to race. The difference is now when someone says something like this, the chances are that it's been recorded somewhere.

CASAREZ: Take the case of Paula Deen, a major cooking personality.

DEEN: There we go. How is this, you all?

CASAREZ: When a deposition made public in 2013 showed revealed Deen admitted the N-word in the past, the multimillionaire seemingly lost it all, including her show on The Food Network and major corporate sponsors.

Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University says there's a cycle, and it now runs faster than ever.

THOMPSON: We start with public outrage. There's the official response by the people who can actually do something about it.

DEEN: Hi. I'm back.

THOMPSON: Paula Deen is now in act five where she's attempting to come back, her tour, and some people, of course, never achieve that part of the cycle.

CASAREZ: Deen was reportedly worth $10 million when the scandal broke. Donald Sterling is a billionaire, but he may end up being worth more money as a result of his racist words. THOMPSON: The big punishment for Sterling might be, you have got to sell the team. And that might mean that your big punishment is you make a sale that is going to make you hundreds of millions of dollars.

CASAREZ: Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattleman, became a media star overnight when he accused the federal government of stepping on his rights.

BUNDY: And I have often wondered, were they better off as slaves, picking cotton?

CASAREZ: Those words ended his brief run in the political limelight.

KEN SUNSHINE, PUBLIC RELATIONSHIP EXECUTIVE: The core issue of racism or homophobia or outrageous behavior must be dealt with in a much more frontal way, as opposed to just punishing people who get caught on tape.

CASAREZ: Ken Sunshine is a longtime public relations expert and civil rights activist. His concern is the swift public punishment doesn't solve the real problem.

SUNSHINE: They either repent or don't repent and move on and the insidious problem of racism in America doesn't get dealt with.

CASAREZ: That is until the next public figure gets recorded on tape.

Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.


LEMON: Jean, thank you very much.

So how do we deal with racism in public and private?

Joining me now is cultural critic and writer Michaela Davis, Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, legal analyst Mark O'Mara, and back with me now is Bomani Jones.

Welcome to the new members of the panel.

Mr. Ogletree, I want to start with you first, Professor Ogletree.

What Donald Sterling said was so outrageous that it's really easy for everyone to stand up against racism this time. But what about the more subtle underlying examples of racism?

CHARLES OGLETREE, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: A lot of people, Don, have these racist views and they say them quietly. They say them that they are not recorded. They are never reported.

And we have to deal with it, because I think that we have to make sure that everybody has a right to speak,but they can't talk about people because of their race, their sexual orientation, their gender, their class. All of these things are happening all the time. And I talk to my students about it all the time because they don't see a whole lot of black professors in front of them. They need to understand that I'm very aware of issues of race and gender and sexual orientation and I'm going to make sure that they are aware of it, too.

LEMON: Mark O'Mara, it's an interesting question for you. As a colleague, I see some of the reaction that you have had for the George Zimmerman trial. You were a central figure in the Trayvon Martin- George Zimmerman case. When you talk publicly about race as a white man who defended George Zimmerman, how do people react to you?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's strange, because some people ask whether or not I have any right to be talking about race as the white guy in the room maybe.

But the reality is I think that I have shown that I am willing and I'm comfortable talking about the uncomfortable. Many times, people have come to me and talked to me about the racial issues that came to the forefront in the Zimmerman case.

And I got to tell you, by the time the conversation is well under way, they understand I think that my view of the racism that exists is not just from the George Zimmerman case. That was one of thousands of cases. Rather, it comes from the fact that for 30 years I have represented everybody accused, and a lot of those have been young black males. And we have railed against those same concerns within the criminal justice system.

So, yes, it's tough. But I think if we're comfortable talking about it, there's a lot to talk about.

LEMON: And we always say that, you know, Michaela, because besides a public denunciation, what else can be done to combat racism? Because we sort of live -- don't you think -- between outrages? We go I'm so outraged about this. Paula Deen, we're outraged, and then something else happens, we're outraged, and then we go back to our normal lives.


I think what is really interesting that what we're seeing happening is we're stacking up these icons of ignorance and they become touch points for young people. And that's really what I'm focused on, is how is this affecting the next generation?

How is it moving the culture forward? And while, yes, Sterling may make some money, but what happened to his legacy? And in history, people look at what you left behind. And Paula Deen and Sterling and Sandusky, folks are -- their legacy is being destroyed and there's power in that.

And the question is, what are we going to do moving forward? What is the NBA going to do? Because it was a very powerful moment seeing those players ready to organize, ready to not play. Imagine that. Imagine the power. These are young, very rich black men with numbers.

We have got one old man with a big bank account, but we have got hundreds of activated, hopefully, black men. So the answer is, what is this going to do for the organizations? Do they see that they can have cultural currency and not just play on the field, that they can organize around issues? That's that's what's open at this point.

LEMON: Bomani, I want to ask you this. And to what Mark O'Mara said, he said, you know, he feels in many ways he's being judged by one thing that happened in his career, a long career.

Is it -- are we in an era where we don't allow white people to talk about race, and we completely count them out because it doesn't count because it's coming from a white person?

JONES: Well, where is this world where we get to tell white people what to do? I'm unfamiliar with that place where you get to command and tell white people what they can and cannot do.


JONES: White people talk about race all the time. They just don't often refer to it as being race. It's coded and put into other language, other terms. But this idea that white people can't talk, the issue is not about whether white people have permission to talk about race.

The issue is, why does it seem that white people so often are uninformed on issues of race and that systematic things that black people often know? And those are things that black people often learn in books. It's not just a tacit understanding that you get. You get from learning and reading.

Professor Ogletree, the things he tells his students about are not just things he picked up himself. It's things he read and things he learned. What I find in media, especially when it comes time to talk about race, they will call me. They will call Michaela. They will call Professor Ogletree.

And we will all sit up and black people and talk about race, as though we're the ones that wield racism.


LEMON: But we also call Mark and there are other...

JONES: Yes, you call Mark, certainly. But you know what I mean. Like, this is treated like a black issue.


LEMON: Go ahead, Mark.

O'MARA: Let me contest a little bit, because I do think that whites are afraid to talk about race, not race, but racism.

And the reason why is because it is so difficult for us to have a realistic conversation about it, because it's one false move, one misstep and all of a sudden we fall right into the crevasse we're trying to get out of.

I think that there's a silver lining to the Sterling case. And it's this. We have become a group of people who refuse to be bystanders to this type of racism. Rather than being on the side watching it, almost like a person who is mugged on the street that you walk around, I think Sterling, Paula Deen have shown us that we're going to be active and involved.

And I think Michaela is right. If we take these opportunities and say these people who are doing it, these billionaires are not going to get away with it, I congratulate an active media and an interactive social media that took three or four days to take a billionaire who acted in a bigoted way and take him down.


LEMON: Why are you disagreeing, Bomani?

JONES: Well, on a number of levels.

One reason I'm disagreeing is that we talked about this with Sterling and the housing discrimination suits from years ago that were ignored by this media and got picked up because this story was more salacious. The same thing happened to Paula Deen.

While people were tripping about whether she said the N-word or not way back when, that was a hiring discrimination suit. And when we talk about her career being ended, we don't talk about it in the context of hiring discrimination.

Also, the details of Paula Deen were so shocking, it seemed to be so antiquated, that they were juicy in that way. When we talk about things that are racism and are systemic, then we suddenly have problems. I also reject this idea that white people are afraid of falling into this crevasse and one false step.

Part of the reason why a lot of reason make that false step is they are simply uninformed on those issues. I cannot contribute to the whoa is me, why won't white anybody let white people talk about race? It's just simply not that easy to do.


All right, thank you very much.


LEMON: Go ahead. We have got to go to break. But go ahead, quickly.


LEMON: My question to you is, because a lot of people are talking. They're telling me we have to go to break, but I'm going to let you finish here.

Is it a fair criticism or critique? Because many things that we learn as African-Americans, we learn through experience . And we know that white people in America and black people in America have different experiences. That's not an excuse for white people not to learn. But it's not just learned through books. We have an experience that white people don't have. And so that may make us a little bit more prone to knowing about it or to being aware of it than it does the average white person, Professor?

OGLETREE: I think white people are just as aware as we are. And I think we need to make that clear.

Mark O'Mara is a defense lawyer. And I was looking at him in the Trayvon Martin case as a defense lawyer, not a white man. And I thought he did a good job as a defense lawyer, because I'm a defense lawyer. That's what I did.

And I think that we have to grow up and understand these differences in a way that makes a lot of sense. We're not there yet. And, like I said, I have talked to my students about it, but they need to understand, particularly at a place where minorities are in the minority, at a place like Harvard, that they need to understand that race is a very complicated issue.

You better be careful if you're going to tread in that area, and you have got to take it like you're going to give it.

LEMON: Very good points. And a great conversation.

So, stay with me, everybody.

When we come right back, the conversation about race, we're going to move that to Capitol Hill, where some congressmen are having their own struggles with how to talk about race. We will be right back.


LEMON: Welcome back, everyone.

We're having a very interesting and honest conversation. We're talking about race now. It's a mine field across America, including Capitol Hill. And the words we use can make all of the difference.

For example, Mississippi Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson on a New Nation of Islam radio show this weekend, he argued that criticism of President Obama is racism. And he went on to blast Justice Clarence Thomas as an Uncle Tom.

Joining me is now Dana Bash, CNN's congressional correspondent.

Dana, you have been listening to this conversation. Just today, you have had an amazing interview with Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson, who this weekend made some racially charged comments about Clarence Thomas and other Washington figures. Tell us about that.


In fact, he doubled down. Here's what happened specifically on that Uncle Tom comment.


BASH: About Clarence Thomas saying, that he was an Uncle Tom. What did you mean by that?

THOMPSON: Well, if you look at his decisions on the court, they have been adverse to the minority community. And the people I represent have a real issue with an African-American not being sensitive to those issues.

BASH: Calling him an Uncle Tom, though, isn't that a racially charged term?

THOMPSON: For some, it is, but, to others, it's the truth.

BASH: Because, you know, looking at that and hearing that kind of language, that certainly wouldn't be, you know, appropriate if it was coming from somebody who was white.

THOMPSON: But I'm black.

BASH: So it makes it OK?

THOMPSON: Well, you are asking me the question, and I'm giving you the response.


BASH: Now, in that radio interview that you talked about, Don, that Congressman Thompson also accused the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, of making racist comments when you remember several years ago he said that the political goal that Republicans have is to make President Obama a one-term president.

Thompson, again, did not back down on saying that that was racially charged. He said other presidents weren't treated that way, but there was another Democratic president who wasn't black who was impeached by Republicans, Don.

LEMON: Yes. So Congressman Thompson is calling Clarence Thomas an Uncle Tom and Mitch McConnell a racist. What's -- what's making him so angry?

BASH: He says he is convinced that much of the opposition to President Obama is not so much about his policies but the color of his skin. Listen to what he said.


THOMPSON: Well, I've been here a long time, and I've seen a lot of issues come before Congress. I've never seen the venom put forth on another candidate or a president like I have seen with this president. And that's my own opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Don, I've got to tell you, on this, Thompson is not alone. I've had other black lawmakers who have said similar things to me. I've even had more than one white Republican lawmaker say to me privately that they believe some of the animus that they hear back home is based on race.

LEMON: Dana, even more amazing is the interview was only minutes after the congressman met with Senator Paul Ryan about his use of some words last month that a lot of people say are racially insensitive. Take a listen.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN (via phone): We have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. So there's a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.


LEMON: So the obvious question, Dana: What happened in that meeting today?

BASH: Well, I should tell you that Ryan immediately backtracked from the phrasing there, talking about men in the inner city and men not working or valuing work. But member of the Black Caucus -- you see them there -- they met with him, because they were so enraged they wanted a summit of sorts.

Now afterwards I asked Ryan if he cleared the air. He said that the point he was trying to make was that we have to stop marginalizing and isolating poor communities.

Now, Don, I can tell you, the irony here is that Ryan is actually part of a younger generation of Republicans, trying to reach out to minorities and touring the country, trying to better understand what's needed, but he obviously stumbled rhetorically big time. But this does go far beyond rhetoric. There's a very deep philosophical divide over how to address these issues. And by all accounts, they did not even come close to bridging that divide today.

LEMON: Dana Bash, our congressional correspondent. Thank you, Dana. We appreciate that.

BASH: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Reaction now from my guests. So first to you, Dr. Ogletree, Paul Ryan is doing a lot of work trying to find solutions to urban poverty. That's what he says. But he used the words "cultural problem." Cultural problem when he talked about the, quote, "inner city men who don't know how -- don't know the value of work." Are those coded words, do you think?

OGLETREE: They're all sort of buzz words, and I think they are -- they hurt. They really do hurt, because it shows that -- his ignorance about race and about people who are in a different set of circumstances, and I think that needs to be treated differently.

I'm a good friend of Bennie Thompson. I've known him, and he's represented Mississippi very well. And the whole idea is that this is a black-on-black discussion. And I have heard that word "Uncle Tom" from the time I was growing up as a kid until very recently. And so it's a common use of language to, in a sense, downgrade somebody who's not embracing the race.

And I think that people have to figure out what can you say, what can't you not say? And I'm really, really worried that this is going to be a discussion about getting rid of words.

LEMON: Is it OK for the congressmen -- he said, "I called him Uncle Tom," and he goes, "I'm black." Is that OK?

OGLETREE: I don't think it's because he's black it's OK. But what I'm saying is "Uncle Tom" is a word -- Uncle Tom is real, right? And the question is, can people use that word? If they do, they don't use it as openly as they should. But I think that they should make it clear that there's a difference between them and some other people. I think that makes a lot of difference the way we have a discussion about what does Uncle Tom actually mean?

LEMON: Let's talk more about the comments from Congressman Thompson, Bomani Jones. I mean, is it ever acceptable for a U.S. congressman to call a black Supreme Court justice an Uncle Tom?

JONES: Well, the thing about Uncle Tom that I find interesting is we have a discussion about whether or not it's an appropriate term. And it seems as though to me, and I could be mistaken, I don't hear the outcry about calling someone an Uncle Tom coming primarily from black people. I find it seems a lot of white people find it to be offensive. And if you were being called an Uncle Tom, it is offensive, but I don't think that that's a racist term that you happen to use.

I do think if you call somebody an Uncle Tom, you better absolutely be correct, because if you're not, well, you know how that goes.

LEMON: It seems like, you know -- like only a few years ago nobody thought. I guess many people didn't -- not that nobody thought, but that the words "inner city" were akin to racial name calling. Are we reading too much into language or should we be looking more at intent, do you think?

O'MARA: I think we're getting caught up in language a bit. However, if there's anything that brings some of these conversations to the forefront, if calling somebody an Uncle Tom, even if you're black, gets it on TV so that we can start talking about it more, if some seemingly insensitive congressman starts talking about inner-city cultural problems, and it gets on this program and people listen to this program, and we actually start having active conversations where everyone does get involved, then it gets it to the forefront. I think that's what's most important. I really do.

LEMON: I understand what you're saying. But those words, words like Uncle Tom and the "N" word, end the conversation. Those are words as weapons, and it's hard to move beyond those words, Michaela Davis, once someone has called you that.

DAVIS: Yes, but -- but this is a messy situation, and we have to be brave enough to make mistakes and say the wrong words.

LEMON: Right.

DAVIS: How long have we been hearing the other narrative? We're having all these counter narratives, and we have to be brave to make the mistake, hear the words, dissect them, put them in context and then move on.

But I think we have to be really clear where we are in history, right? So this is the first time for a lot of time -- for a long time that people are actually able to speak publicly, and then there's this big public discourse around it.

Democracy is messy. Slavery was messy. Civil rights was messy and complicated and diabolical. So how are we supposed to have polite conversations about crimes against humanity that have colored our entire civilization? Right?

So I think we need to give ourselves some room to make mistakes and say the things that are touch points so we can unpack them and give each other some education. If we're tip-toeing around words, we're not going to get through the mess. Democracy is a messy process. And we just have to not be cowards around whether a word is going to hurt someone. And we need to educate what that word feels like when you yield it like a weapon, or do you just not know?

LEMON: Uh-huh. All right. Stay with me, everyone. We're answering your questions when we come right back.


LEMON: So change of plans here. You remember at the beginning of this newscast, and I said that, you know, we were going to -- that there are different conversations that we have in public and in private, right? We just had one of those private conversations in the middle of the break, and I said, "Why aren't we having this conversation on television?"

Bomani, what did you say? What was your question to us?

JONES: Well, I was just making sure. I was having trouble telling from the tenor of the previous conversation. I thought that people were entertaining the possibility that Paul Ryan wasn't talking about black people when he was so explicitly talking about black people. And I was horrified, to be honest. I'm glad we're all on the same page.

LEMON: I think everybody knows he was talking about black people, but when he -- especially when he said "inner city," that was the thing. Inner city. That means black people. He doesn't realize that that's offensive. JONES: No, no, no, I don't think that that's the case. I think he knows that that means black people, and he knows that you can't say black people so you have to say something close to black people. And this is Lee Atwater politics. He was perfectly aware of what he was doing.

LEMON: Isn't the most -- isn't the most offensive part of it, though, Michaela, not necessarily that he's saying, OK, inner city, fine? It's that he's saying the lack of wanting to work, of wanting to have a job?

DAVIS: Right. I was much more offended by this whole idea that there's a whole culture of black men that don't want to work.

And also assuming that we're so stupid that we don't get, when you say "inner city," that's code for black. Right?

I'm much more comfortable hearing them say their ignorant things so we can know where to put the work, right? So inner city was -- you know, I haven't heard that since 1976. But we remember it to know that that's code for black. But the idea that there's a whole culture and generation of black men that don't want to work...

LEMON: Right.

DAVIS: ... that's what I find offensive.

LEMON: Professor Ogletree, what -- listen, you don't really see many Republicans talking about attacking the issue of poverty. I mean, does he get any slack for that?

OGLETREE: Not at all. I think the reality is that a lot of people talk about race in what they call different ways. I hear people -- and everybody on this panel has heard people say something like, "Oh, I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about them." They're talking about black men. I'm one of them. and I feel offended when somebody's talking to me about that.

And I think that there's no easy way to do this. When people are trying to, in a sense, create the sense that we don't have a race problem, and we do have a race problem.

Black men are trying to work. They're trying to get a job. They would love to be in their homes. They have -- back before we talked about the 21st century, they were in places where they couldn't even go home, because, you know, the welfare was given a check to the black woman, right? And if there's a man in the house, oh, my God.

We have to, in a sense, build up black man. I think I'm glad what the president's doing. The program, My Brother's Keeper, is with children. But when I just went to Reverend Sharpton's program, a 46- year-old black man said, "What about me? You're talking about jobs for boys, for girls, for everybody, but I'm a 46-year-old guy who wants to work. I'm black. When are you going to put me to work?"

And I think we have to talk about the whole community. That's very important.

LEMON: Well, and African-Americans do suffer the highest unemployment rate, the highest unemployment rate.

OGLETREE: Absolutely.

LEMON: Because of historic reasons. Right?

So Mark O'Mara, your response to all of this?

O'MARA: Well, look, if we as a society and as a nation are going to have a conversation about this that really makes some sense, we may have just started,, but the real conversation begins not only when we say to Ryan, "You are talking about blacks. Can we get that on the table?" And he actually says, "Yes." That's when those conversations can actually begin, because these code words that we're talking about don't really get us anything and keeps it on the periphery. It's nice, it's good. We'll have another blow-up when somebody else will act racist, and we'll condemn them.

But you're right. It's not really getting to the conversations we have to have about how we're going to affect -- in my world, I want to affect the criminal justice system because I know if we do it there, then we stop bringing a percentage of young black males into the system; because when you're in that system, you basically never get out.

There's one and there's other economic systems that we need to work on but I think that the conversations start when we get honest with each other. And Ryan, as an example, and admit that he's talking about blacks and not these code words would be a nice start.

LEMON: So but here's the thing, though. I think that, as a journalist who navigates these conversations, everyone -- no one wants to be -- no one wants to offend everyone. Everyone wants to be so polite, and I think you bring up a very good point, Michaela. No one wants -- we have to start offending each other, whether it's black people offending black people, black people offending white people, we all have to have the tough conversation in order -- in order to actually effect change, Michaela.

DAVIS: Yes. We have to not be cowards around where we're limited. We have to see where we're ignorant, because we all are.

No one got out of this thing scot-free, right. The way this was set up, black people and white people are all -- we're all interconnected, and that's also really a conversation, too. Because we saw the NAACP have all kinds of problems around -- you know, around the whole Sterling case. Right?

So it's not just blacks over here and whites over here. We have to engage repetitiously and continuously, because we've been separated repetitiously and continuously for generations. So we're not going to -- this isn't going to happen in one newscast. We have to keep having the courage. We have to have revolutionary-type conversations, and that just means we can't be afraid. LEMON: Go ahead, Bomani.

JONES: Beyond just the simple idea that we have to talk about this, we have to acknowledge the game theory aspects of what we're talking about. And it's a prevailing sentiment that, as black people, as brown people get more, white people by definition wind up getting less.

That's why when Paul Ryan and guys like that use that code, it works every time, because it appeals to people's fears of losing everything that they have. And some people, just the power they have in their regular lives, that's what they're afraid of losing.

So when we talk about how we have to stop being polite, the step of stopping being polite is, A, not just Paul Ryan using code. It's crushing Paul Ryan and guys like that for using the code. And then the people who hear the code and then interpret it perfectly, we have to stop letting people slide for taking in code and saying, "No, he's just talking about the inner city." Now black people know exactly that's what's being said.

DAVIS: It's horrible in how it treats black people and poor people. So that's really where his language is.

LEMON: Yes, but they had a meeting today where they addressed the issues that he talked about. Isn't that a start? No?

OGLETREE: The Congressional Black Caucus? It's a start, but it's bigger than that. It's bigger than that, because the problem is that the issue of race applies to everybody. It's not just poor people. It's rich people.

I have the opportunity to represent Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who wrote a book about it, "The Presumption of Guilt." There is no presumption of guilt in the criminal justice system. But there's a presumption of guilt when it comes to black men.

When there were over 200 black men who were stopped by the police in New York just recently, and most of those men had never committed a crime. They were not -- didn't have a record. They didn't have a weapon. But they were stopped because they were black. And we have to stand up, those of us who have the ability to do that, stand up to say, "You can't treat anybody differently. You can't presume that I'm a different way."

I can't get a cab in certain places, no matter what suit I'm wearing, no matter if I have my Colin Powell book in front of me. You know, I have to get a black [SIC] man or a white woman to, you know, call down the cab, open the door for me to get in it. And you know the people who are racist?

LEMON: Quickly, I have to run.

OGLETREE: These are folks who are immigrants. These are immigrants who are coming and driving cabs. And they see me, they see black men, black women in New York, and Boston, and Chicago and they'll just drive right by, thinking we're going to rob them, we're going to take their money. It makes no sense at all.

We need to talk about race, and it affects everybody, not just the folks who are unemployed, who are gang bangers. It affects everybody. I think we need to make sure that we address that issue in a comprehensive way.

LEMON: Hold that thought. We'll be right back.


LEMON: We're keeping the conversation going about race in America. Back with me now, Michaela Davis, Charles Ogletree, Mark O'Mara, and Bomani jones.

So you know it has become a mainstream national story when late-night talk show hosts, well, they get into the fray. Take a listen to this.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY KIMMEL": This is a true story. Donald Sterling was actually scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award from the NAACP. But the organization has now called off that ceremony. Yes. It turns out black people don't want to be photographed with him either.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Earlier today he was rushed to the Paula Deen rehab center in Georgia.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE-NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: Sterling insists he's not a racist. He says some of his best credit cards are black.


LEMON: Charles, do you see it as positive or negative when a serious issue like racial bigotry, when it becomes late-night fodder for comedians?

OGLETREE: I think it's positive for this reason. People are laughing, but they're paying attention. And I think that the comedians around the air -- I'm not laughing, but they're -- they're, in a sense, bringing up issues that are global issues that everybody needs to talk about. And you'll hear it the next day. You'll hear it on the radio, you'll hear people talking about it.

But we need to have some serious conversations about race and class and gender and sexual orientation, because we've ignored those things. And they've been overwhelming us. And we are greater -- greater separation in the 21st century than it was in the 1950. It's just crazy.

LEMON: Michaela, I want to get your take on this. Arsenio Hall took it a step further and posted a photo on Instagram, standing next to a life-sized cut-out of Donald Sterling. The caption reads "Ebony and Bigotry." The joke is Sterling himself is now on Instagram with a -- with a black man. What do you think? DAVIS: You know, I thought it was genius. I think there really is power in political satire. We've seen it throughout history, and particularly again because millennials and young people will respond to that. And hopefully, it will incite them to have the conversation, because I think we're really seeing a divide in one group of people...

LEMON: Right.

DAVIS: ... that believe in equality and diversity and this whole other group. And we're having this cultural war, it seems.

LEMON: And Michaela, you're going to get upset, because I'm going to ask your question to Bomani. How much has social media played a role in shining a spotlight on this topic? I know that you're passionate about it, Michaela, but Bomani, go ahead and answer.

JONES: Yes, I'm not sure. And I think that people who are on social media have a real tendency to want to pat themselves on the back for every revolution that they start. But I don't know how you tell exactly what would have blown up on its own if it wasn't driven by social media.

I contend the Donald Sterling story, because the audio that it had, that it would have blown up on its own. It didn't need the help that it wound up getting from social media.

I will always believe that there are other stories that do, but on this one, I just don't think that's what happened.

LEMON: All right. Go ahead, Michaela.

DAVIS: I mean...

LEMON: I've got to get Mark in, but go ahead.

DAVIS: But what happened, happened. It went through TMZ, right?

LEMON: Right.

DAVIS: And so the power of that vehicle is very different than if it was on a news site. And then the constant, hundreds of thousands of voices adding to it, you can't deny the power and the speed in which social media will move an issue forward. It's just undeniable.

LEMON: Mark O'Mara, do you think that because of...

O'MARA: Yes.

LEMON: ... because of the way that this tape was, you know, gotten, that it will have an effect on how people feel about it or -- you know, because people are questioning the legality of the tape.

O'MARA: It may not ever make it into a courtroom, because it wasn't properly gained; it's not going to be admissible. But no, I don't think people who are now talking about what it stands for matter at all, and I think they're going to look at it and say, he is who he is, wherever the tape came from.

Comedy is a great way to start talking about these things, because it's an easy way to talk about uncomfortable subjects. But at least we're talking about it.

LEMON: Professor, I'm going to give you the last word on this. What do you make of this whole thing?

OGLETREE: Well, this -- I think -- I think it's a very sad situation for all of us to have to talk about it. But let me say a word about social media.

No matter what you say, Don, or what any of us say, everybody will be responding to this program, because they can do it anonymously. I get all sorts of hate mail, and I enjoy it. And I'll say, "God bless you. Thank you very much."

LEMON: Hold that thought.

OGLETREE: Because you have to respond to it.

LEMON: Or say nothing, is what I do. Thank you, panel. We'll be right back.


LEMON: Come close, everyone. Take a listen here.

We've talked a lot tonight about race. It is a conversation, as difficult as it is, that America needs to have.

When it comes to men like Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy, most of us can agree that what they said really crosses the line. They don't appear to want to have a conversation about America and black and white. They appear to have already made up their minds. See where that got them?

It is true that what we think or what we say in private are often very different from what we say out loud in public, and like Sterling or Bundy, or Thompson, the words, the very words we use can get in the way or they can get us in trouble. Words like the "N" word, words like "Uncle Tom." Those are words as weapons. They either leave us speechless or force us to respond with something even worse.

So here's a challenge. Tell each other the hard truth, to be honest with each other about our feelings, to allow each other some leeway when talking about race and racism. And don't forget to leave room to listen.

I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for watching. That's it for us tonight.

"AC 360" starts right now.