CNN anchor Don Lemon is the sexiest man on television. No one comes close to how drop-dead gorgeous this man is. I tune in to CNN hoping to see him, and I was the first person to sign out Transparent, his memoir, when my library system acquired it. Transparent tells Lemon’s story about growing up in segregated Louisiana in the mid-sixties and his journey to where he is now as a CNN anchor.
Transparent was a rapid read, only 220 pages written in a stream-of-consciousness format. I can imagine Lemon sitting at his computer, typing away his life story. Unfortunately this train of thought style, left unchecked, is prone to error. Transparent suffers from its lack of an editor. This big-type, big-margin book had almost two dozen errors, all of the type indicative of the typist thinking too fast for his fingers. There are missing auxiliary verbs, missing prepositions and other errors common in typing out an oral style on paper. I stopped recording them when I became frustrated with having encountered so many. With such a slight book, I could not ignore the error overload. I hope they’re all corrected in a reprinted edition. Here are but a few of the embarrassments:
In talking about the crash of American Airlines flight 587 in Queens, New York, on 12 November 2001:
“The plane when down shortly after it took off from New York’s JFK airport, killing all 260 people aboard and five more on the ground.”
On coping with his ego when meeting the public on the street:
“It’s the sort thing that reminds me of my sisters and their loving, earthbound efforts to keep my big head from floating me right off to Mars!”
About an earlier network he worked for not wanting him to cover the death of singer Luther Vandross:
“And since he [Vandross] wasn’t black anymore, we couldn’t do make our story about him have any black people in it talking about him, could ‘we?'”
Writing about covering Barack Obama’s candidacy for the Presidency in 2008:
“Politics wasn’t my beat, but after he won, I knew wasn’t going to let history pass me by without being a part of it.”
Lemon wrote about his return to his home state:
“In 1990, when I left Baton Rouge, I swore that I couldn’t live in the Louisiana anymore and I vowed never to do so again.”
About his assignment in Africa when writing a piece on the devastation of AIDS on the continent:
“As a result that experience, I don’t complain as much about my accommodations, no matter how bad they might seem.”
“Sometimes by ourselves, sometimes with guides, John and I traipsed from African nation to African nation, submitting stories about AIDS, about relief efforts, about the how HIV was a legacy of the regions many wars…”
Aside from a superfluous definite article preceding “HIV”, Lemon omits the apostrophe in “regions”. So many errors = an embarrassment for a journalist such as Lemon. Was this book rushed to press without an editor seeing it first?
The closet editor in me will now talk about Transparent. Lemon introduces a philosophy he calls the “black box”. It is a safety net, or a comfort zone bubble that he believes American blacks build around themselves:
“Sometimes the black box means giving up too much in the name of being ‘cool’ or ‘down.’ It can mean saying ‘no’ to education and ‘yes’ to stereotypical attitudes and ideas that ultimately lead nowhere. It can mean closed-mindedness to new ideas and diverse experiences. Sometimes it means adopting the attitude of only that which is ‘black’ is worthwhile or good.”
He talks about how he has had to fight to burst out of the black box:
“For example, if I’m black, then I must be a Democrat who likes fried chicken. I must like rap music and play basketball. The reality that I’m none of these things often results in a double-take from some, and my authenticity is questioned. Who said that I have to be any of these things?”
Lemon relates his professional climb to the black box analogy throughout Transparent. In terms of investigative journalism, sometimes a question posed by a white anchorman is interpreted entirely differently when it is raised by a black anchor, even when the question is phrased in exactly the same way and tone.
Lemon keeps his word as the title suggests and is indeed transparent throughout his book. He reveals that he was sexually molested as a child and he writes about the colorism, or the discrimination he faced from other blacks because of his skin tone. Lemon is unapologetic for using the racist epithet “nigger” several times, saying:
“Somewhere in that town center, maybe at the River Queen, which is the little fast-food joint where my sisters and I would go for burgers and ice cream, is where I first heard a white person call me a ‘nigger’. I hate the word, but I’d rather say it than avoid it with euphemisms like the ‘N-word.’ At least it’s honest.”
I admire Lemon’s honesty in Transparent. He confronts the truth about this most racist of all words, believing it better to use it rather than cover it up. As this book is about his total personal transparency, Lemon chooses to come out of the closet and he confronts offensive opinions from those who believe that the only reason he is gay is on account of his being molested by an older male. He also has a word to say about other blacks who don’t believe that homosexuality exists within their race.
The one part of Transparent that I found most shocking was the juxtaposition of his experiences chasing hurricanes in the same chapter as his account of the death of James Byrd by white supremacists. In the chapter entitled “A Lesson on Facing Fear”, there is a subsection entitled “Chills and Thrills”. Lemon writes about Byrd and how he was dragged behind a pickup truck for miles. Byrd lost an arm and his head was severed before his murderers dumped his body next to a black cemetery. Within this same chapter, though, immediately after Lemon writes “the image of James Byrd’s mangled, headless body lying lifeless on a dark Texas road”, he exclaims:
“I’m a thrill-seeker!
Perhaps you are not surprised, but I was. I discovered it chasing hurricanes.”
This change in subject matter should have had its own chapter. It was most insensitive to write about such a shocking hate crime then to break off immediately to read about his chills and thrills chasing down hurricanes.
I read Transparent in two days in two long sittings; a proofreader could have fixed all the grammatical mistakes in less than twenty-four hours and saved me from writing a review of a substandard memoir. I do admire Don Lemon and like his interview style–for he frequently asks his subjects exactly what everyone is thinking–but I believe Transparent was rushed and does not capture the essence of one of the leading news anchors of today.