Bill O'Reilly: I See Black People!

Bill O'Reilly. Photo by Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images.

Bill O'Reilly Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images

So, by now I hope you're up to speed on Fox News talker Bill O'Reilly's rather disgusting foot-in-mouthism. If not, take my word for it — it was a backfisted compliment regarding so-called normal black behavior. Bill was seemingly stunned that people of color can comport themselves in a black-run restaurant.

That Bill's comments are ignorant is obvious. But how could someone who lives in the Metro NYC area, works in Manhattan and talks with agenda setters daily be so completely unaware of blacks in suits who are able to order iced tea without saying M-F?

It really boils down to basic Ralph Ellison: To Bill (and plenty of people like him), blacks who don't fit his narrow view of what a black should be are invisible to him. O'Reilly crosses paths with "normal" people of color by the dozens every day, but he lacks the ability to truly see them. It's only when he's completely swimming in another environment, when he is forced to become aware of those around him, that he realizes that there is "no difference" between the patrons at a Harlem eatery and those at a "normal" restaurant.

I don't believe this kind of racial myopia is unique to Bill O'Reilly or even to white people. But people of color live daily in a culture dominated by white male Christians. We see all that culture has to offer: the good and bad and "normal." Guys like Bill O. need to get a special invite — to a soul-food restaurant in Harlem or an Anita Baker concert — before they will meaningfully interact with people who are truly other.

Based on his own comments, I believe that's an invitation Bill rarely accepts.



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Mr. Ridley, did you take O'reilly's words out of context?

Sent by kevin pensoneau | 3:09 PM | 9-27-2007

My very first glance at your blog today now has my attention ever more. Thanks.

Sent by mochactygrl | 3:14 PM | 9-27-2007

This happens too often. The failure to recognize anything other than the degrading stereotypes of others in our day to day life. We see even the alleged behavior of O.J. Simpson, 50 Cent, Michael Vick and the like as being typical of African Americans but fail to consider the accomplishment of Dr. Ben Carson, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Robert Johnson as being within realm of normalcy to the same group. Of course it doesn't help that some minorities seem to be narrowing the definition of what it means to be whoever it is they are.

When we fail to recognize the diversity of others and ourselves, it's to our own detriment that we do so.

Sent by Liz | 3:25 PM | 9-27-2007

I heard this news report for the first time a couple of days ago on a sports radio station in South Florida. The Bill O'Reilly's comments made me wince but it wasn't a shock. The hosts of the radio program; a Cuban-American and Caucasian were more shocked O'Reilly could say something that stupid. As for me the listener, not so much.

Perhaps my lack of shock toward's O'Reilly's latest gaffe could be due to my perception of him; a person who lives in a multi-cultural New York yet so insulated from the various cultures but his own.

How could he go to the famed Sylvia's, where even a former President (Clinton) was so fond of and make a dumb comment like that? He didn't know better. He didn't know we don't change colors how we act in an Italian restaurant to when we are in a soul food restaurant. In fact, in my neighborhood, if someone starts screaming M-F in a soul food eatery, it's time to dial 9-1-1.

Sent by Moji | 4:36 PM | 9-27-2007

I definitely agree with your comments on O'Reilly's obvious ignorance. Whats obviously painful is that, judging by the comments posted on O'Reilly's blog, few people see the comments as obviously insulting. You would think that upon meeting Colin Powell, Bill O'Reilly would be surprised at the lack of gold and platinum in his dental work, or at witnessing Maya Angelou recite poetry that it is surprisingly devoid of cursewords and upon chatting with Condoleezza Rice that O'Reilly would be surprized that her attire does not reflect what must be the standard attire of black women as seen in most rap videos and even more surpising to him than the lack of hoochie mama sass, would be Dr. Rice's absence of mentioning her baby daddy or the lack of finger snaps and neck gyrations in her conversations about issues of international importance. Perhaps Bill should examine sterotypes about white people and the nextime he eats at a "normal" white establishment he could be surprised at the fact that...well, i'm sure you get the picture. besides, a black man like myself has the knowledge to know that two wrongs dont make a right. I hope that's not surprising.

Sent by S. Ross Browne | 6:44 PM | 9-27-2007

You are taking his words out of context and you know it! Get honest!

Sent by Don | 9:02 AM | 9-28-2007

The first thing that came to mind, are the many times throughout my working life, I've heard my associates say, "I don't have anything against ( fill in the non Caucasian topic of the moment) but............. which will be followed by a 15 minute dissertation of all the things that they have against the same. These people truly believe they are not prejudiced, because they are not card carrying members of the KKK.
The very first comment in this thread will be repeated many times, just as the like minded people worked so hard to prove that the Imus "nappy headed ho's" comment was taken out of context. More recently, Rush Limbaugh suggests that any US soldier in Iraq who believes the war was a mistake is a ???phony soldier,???

Like sounds that are only heard by dogs, this context exist only in the minds of the beleaguered American white males and people like O'Reilly, who have made fortunes by pandering to his and their permanent victim status.

The bigger issue is corporate America's role in sponsoring this narrative. The congress can get the vapors and condemn Move On but it is perfectly ok,for my Senator to associate a triple amputee war veteran with OBL. The equally repugnant comments by Ann Coulter have never kept her from the platform.

Nothing,any of these people,say or have said is new to me. I've heard it all my life,in the factories, and warehouses and the truck stops, I just never thought that our ruling elite would promote it as the new American narrative or that drug addicts would make 8 figures a year for spouting what you can hear for free at the local tavern.

Sent by Myers | 10:06 AM | 9-28-2007

In or out of context, Mr. Ridley, I like your point that we're all pretty short-sighted when it comes to our view of other social/racial/economic groups and our assumptions of their behavior. Thanks for the reminder.

Sent by Luke | 12:33 PM | 9-28-2007

Until people stop purchasing products advertised on O'Reilley and Fox's programs, we will continue to be subject to venom and hatred.
Wouldn't it be nice to have commonsense and productive dialogue across our airwaves?
I despise lack of respect at any level, and am outraged that not enough is being done to condemn this idiot and people of his ilk.

Sent by Brian P | 12:45 PM | 9-28-2007

I agree that when we know people we do not see color, especially if these people act and behave like us. But in an environment where we see a different culture we project our preceived differences on color, because it is the most apparent distiguishable trait. So we must be cognizant of the differences in how we see the world may be shaped by the way we are treated or others treat us. But it really boils down to how we are raised and the culture backgrounds we come from, not the color of our skin. This is what makes America so great. the diversity and the individualism. We should embrace it instead of choosing to alienate ourselves and live in a sheltered world...seeing reality through a distorted lense like O'reilly.

Sent by Saira | 2:14 PM | 9-28-2007

The segment in question was to expose the blindness of whites to normal people of color based on fear, media portrayal, AND stereotypes. Mr. O uttered no hateful or ignorant statements and the audio let's you hear the true tone of the remarks that you and others are completely taking out of context.

Sent by Fred | 3:53 PM | 9-28-2007

I find it very hard to believe that Juan Williams, who I have always found to be up front and honest in matters of race from his NPR pedigree to even now as the token leftist on Fox News, would be backing up O'Reilly if he was really offensive on this one. Don't get me wrong - I frequently find O'Reilly to be egomaniacal to the point of absurdity. Even so, it seems like his statements, in the context of the larger discussion with Williams, were a confirmation that characterizing all of black culture within the narrow confines of the Gangsta'/hip-hop image (or even what might be termed a "poor black inner-city" image, since I think there are generalizations that frequently go beyond stereotyping only young black men) is wrong and inaccurate. That he singled out a particular instance from his life as an example to illustrate this might reflect some of his own bias, but I think it is more likely that he chose that example because it was a perfect counterpoint to the negative expectations that someone who disagrees with Williams might have expressed. O'Reilly is no hero (and frequently, you sort of have to question the guys grip on reality - or even sanity), but in this particular case, I have to agree that he is being targeted inappropriately.

That's particularly harmful when you consider that trumping up false charges makes future accusations of real transgressions less legitimate. I think O'Reilly should be allowed a pass on this one - and probably an apology from Media Matters. (And I donate to that site, so I'm usually in their corner on stuff like this.)

Sent by Andy | 4:50 PM | 9-28-2007

i would like to add that perhaps this Bill character might be overcompensating for his alleged secret, black, illigitimate daughter by making such innapropriate comments?

Sent by brian p | 7:54 PM | 9-28-2007

Perhaps those who are claiming O'Reilly's words are being taken "out of context" could give us an example of the context that would make them legitimate?

Sent by Pat DeBusca, Jr. | 1:49 AM | 9-29-2007

O'Reilly has black people on his show all the time; they are not invisible to him. The discussion was that people may get the wrong idea about people of color because of TV, movies, music.

Sent by Anna | 3:19 AM | 9-29-2007

I don't think this was an off-hand or even accidental comment. Bill O'Reilly knows what will get him attention. He may or may not starve for attention, but he is an articulate man that understands what will happen when people hear him say things like this: his ratings will increase. People who don't like his views will watch his show to find more views that Bill O'Reailly has that the now-offended listener does not like. Either way, his ratings increase. Notice how the comment was offensive but not so far as to warrant a censure of him; sadly, I think it was calculated.

Sent by Mark | 7:51 AM | 9-29-2007

seems to be the best rationale for integration and busing--get more white people to see more 'normal' black people

Sent by jim | 8:55 AM | 9-29-2007

Now to make myself clear, I think Bill O'Reilly is a pompous a** . You seek to do in O'Reilly by telling your version which is not the truth.

Perhaps you should read Juan Williams writings about the conversation that you are telling us about. He after all was there, did you even listen to the radio program? Or perhaps you are one of those saying that "Happy Negro" Williams isn't black enough.I place your reporting/editorial in the same class as that Swift Boat Crowd when Kerry was running.

Sent by Robert Collins | 3:38 PM | 9-29-2007

The problems in this episode are 1.) The hegemonious attitude of white supremists, which I consider O'Reilly to be; and 2.)The road to hell is paved with Good intention.
O'Reilly's comment (And I believe that his intentions were good) that there is "no difference" denies my culture it's own legitimacy. As though all cultures must live up to the expectations and standards of "White Supermist." African American Culture does not need you to legitimize it or promote it, Mr. O'Reilly. We don't need "the man's" stamp of approval.

Sylvia's Restaurant, and I have been there, has an African American Atmosphere, menu, and Owner, these realities make it DIFFERENT from Italian, Chinese, or Other European restaurants. Until you recognize the difference and embrace the diversity Mr. O'Reilly, you are looking at the world through the White Supremacy veil and refusing see other peoples' point of view and their reality.

Further, making Reference to Ludachris and Snoop Dogg is showing how narrow-minded and out of touch you are when it comes to the Black aesthetic. Gangserism and soft pornography is not the exclusive domain of African American Culture. There are Italian, Asian, and other European Gangsters and Porn Stars. The only difference is The White entertainment establishment has purposefully marketed sexually explicit Black song lyrics ever since Lucille Bogan, Ma Rainy, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Now they do the same thing with Gangster rap artists and Black soft pornography rap artists. Our underground music is marketed out in the open but white underground porn remains hidden in the back room. The white media puts parental blocks on white soft pornography, which is marketed in every one-star and five-star hotel, but it puts African American soft porn on prime time radio and television. So Mr. Mid-West, who has no contact with aboveground Black Culture, only sees what money hungry White media executives promote. I bet if you unleashed White soft pornography and marketed it openly, like the industry promotes Black rap soft-porn videos, white kids would buy it and make copycat songs and videos by the thousands.

Mr. O'Reilly could have just stated that he had an eye opening experience at an African American Restaurant. But no, he has to be divisive. He is so attached to hegemony that he believes He should tell African Americans whom to pick as their leaders. He doesn't Like Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton. So he insists "Black people are beginning to think for themselves and reject Jackson and Sharpton as leaders." I say to Mr. O'Reilly You get no say in who Black People follow. It goes back to a period when hegemonious White people picked the leaders and pastors in black churches to make sure that they weren't teaching the people to think for themselves.

Of course you, Mr. O'Reilly, prefer Black people to follow someone that doesn't challenge your White privilege. White privilege that came as a result of world colonialism (land theft), genocide, enslavement, wars built on lies, lies built around wars, death, torture and destruction. Wait-a-minute, Their at it again in Iraq.

Sent by P. Muzi Branch | 5:32 PM | 9-29-2007

What I continue to find most disturbing and quite frankly amazing is the inability of people who are deemed literate and possibly critical thinkers to believe that in any context what Mr. O'Reilly said is acceptable! I am at a loss as to how anyone could think that there is nothing wrong with comments like... I am glad to see that finally black people are thinking for themselves, or....white people would be surprised to see that there is no difference in the way black people behave in a black eating establishment and how white people behave.....HELP ME PLEASE! I need to understand how any of these sentiments could or should be deemed acceptable in any context! Come on people! Worse yet, does anyone read anymore or know anything about black people in for example, Corporate America?! Does anyone really believe that the people of color who run Fortune 500 companies are incapable of speaking or behaving like a rational intellegent human being?!! I am a product of a lower middle-class upbringing and am a member of a large family whose members were taught the value of life and the meaning of decency in the context of society, not in the context of our own singular beliefs and limited outlooks! Mr. Bill "The Idiot" O'Reilly...PLEASE BE QUIET until you have something worthwhile and meaningful to say!!

Sent by Carolann | 12:34 PM | 9-30-2007

Bill O'Reilly must like to punch up his publicity by making caustic statements about blacks, women, liberals, etc. He does it all the time. He seems to live by it.

Sent by James | 1:01 PM | 9-30-2007

Being of African-American heritage, I take exception to Bill O'Reilly's comments following dinner at Sylvia's Restaurant. As a retired senior vice-president of sales & marketing for one of the premier health insurors in the courntry,I did an enormous amount of entertaining in all kinds of restaurants representing just about every culture in the country. I would like to go on record as saying, I never once heard anyone, white, black, brown, red or yellow order by yelling to a waiter, |"MFer more ice tea!"

O'Reilly's comments were so over the top my first response was to laugh but upon further reflection I was deeply saddened. It is obvious what O'Reilly thinks about black people. His thoughs are his personal problem. What worriesme is the number of white people who say that he speaks for them!

Sent by Ed Bass | 6:40 PM | 9-30-2007

As much as I wanted to believe the story, I was having trouble with the contradictions...a little research revealed the context which is even more revealing than the fake story. Help us keep the media informed, especially considering where this next year is liable to take us. Keeping the faith,

Sent by Clark | 11:11 AM | 10-1-2007

O'Reilly is a lout in the same genere as Rosie ODonnell. Too bad he has so much power.

Sent by G. Starks | 3:12 PM | 10-1-2007

I find it somewhat amusing that you think our culture is dominated by white male Christians. What is your basis for such a judgement? Many culture movers and shakers are either not white or they are female. More to the point, who are the Christian dominators of our society? The Christians I know--and that would be many--aren't particularly anybody in our culture.

Sent by Bob Lee | 10:22 PM | 10-1-2007

Why is free speech so important to the Left when it benefits them. What's wrong with Free Speech in this instance?

Sent by Jerry | 6:14 AM | 10-2-2007

I am a non-Fox viewer/listener, after having viewing and hearing Fox commentators. Anyone who can support bigotry, nationalism, blind patriotism, etc. etc. etc. is dangerous. So no surprises. I remember when Geraldo Rivera was a passionist journalist for the oppressed, and Juan Williams was an intelligent bi-partisan journalist. They all sell out for the buck, and who knows what anyone would do, when looking at their money pile up?

Sent by Margo | 10:03 AM | 10-2-2007

I have been oblivious to Bill O'Reilly until recently, on purpose for I do not watch hegemonious, supremist, racist T.V., and most of it is, for who is producing and airing the programs, commercials, etc? At any rate I was online looking for cultural sites for classd and I find something related to Chicanos/Latinos. It is an outrageous statement about illegal aliens killing more Americans than in Iraq. I am disbelieving, so I check it out. It is video clip of Bill O'Reilly on his program speaking of a family that just lost a daughter to a drunk driver that was not a legal resident. He was up in arms, and critizing the Mayor, (a woman) that she didn't know what was going on, that he should have been deported the first time he was brought up on charges. If anyone complains that O'Reilly is being taken out of context, he is the master of taking EVERYTHING out of context and using it for hype and craziness. Then he has Geraldo Riviera on to debate this. He just needed someone to yell at, and didn't even listen to Geraldo making sense, and calling him on his lunacy. The lunacy being he is yelling, blood vessels popping out of his head and neck, spewing statements that are not even intelligent. Just because he is emotional and heated about his opinion, which is racist and bigotted he is aired "making a point". Who is he "making a point" for? Then today I find this article on and I was slightly familiar with the incident because of what a fellow student had reported in class about O'Reilly's comments on the behavior of blacks in a black run restaurant. I have a saying posted on my wall, "Dignity is...The capacity to hold back on the tongue what never should have been in the mind in the first place." In no way shape or form can Bill O'Reilly be considered dignified, unless you simply take him "out of context".

Sent by Christine LaCoursiere | 10:40 AM | 10-2-2007

"I have been oblivious to Bill O'Reilly until recently, on purpose for I do not watch hegemonious, supremist, racist T.V., and most of it is, for who is producing and airin"g the programs, commercials, etc?

Just exactly who is the racist here?

Sent by Steve | 10:06 PM | 10-2-2007

Your commentary about Bill O'Reilly was one layer correct, but needed to go another layer deep. O'Reilly does not say anything that is not disingenuous, not filtered through the right wing white color spectrum aimed at his one layered thick viewership. He is smart enough to know that black restaurant patrons are just like you or me, but he dumbed down his comments to speak to his viewers. You are a very smart social commentator, and I think your commentary about him is also intentionally one layer deep to speak to your audience.

Sent by Gary Young | 2:06 AM | 10-3-2007

I can't stand any of the right-wing "shock-jocks" like Bill O'Reilly and Chris Matthews. I didn't hear the comments you are talking about because I never watch them. It makes my blood pressure go up. It doesn't matter what they are talking about, thier voices and atttitudes just grate on my eardrums.

Sent by Mark Wells | 9:38 AM | 10-20-2007

Perhaps the real truth lies in the fact that all races can succeed in life without the excuse of racism. Today more than ever, the truth is hard work and dedication warrant success. Let's progress not regress.

Sent by Steve Nall | 1:05 PM | 11-14-2007

Martin luther King Jr. words still ring
in my ears; " judge a person not by the
color of their skin , but by the content
of their character".
I hereby publiclly disown any connection
to my Irish/English heritage and swear
my allegiance to our common ancestory;
lucy the mother of us all from Africa.

Sent by Jack Arnold | 2:08 AM | 1-2-2008