Now that Bill O'Reilly is off the air, I think it is time I provide an account of my appearance on the "O'Reilly Factor," since the tape of the episode I appeared on is nowhere to be found
Ten years ago, I received a call inviting me to appear on "The O'Reilly Factor." The occasion was a controversy in a town in Ohio where a white teacher was chosen to teach a Black History course when the one Black teacher in the school retired. I assumed that I was called because my recently published book "White Boy: A Memoir" described how I ended up as a Professor in Fordham's Black Studies Department.
I had some experience in doing media appearances about this subject thanks to my wonderful publicity agent Marlah Bonner McDuffie, and had just done an appearance on the Chappelle Show, which brought me some "street cred" so I decided to accept, despite Mr O'Reilly's reputation for eviscerating liberal guests.
When I got to the studio, I quickly concluded that this experience was going to be more challenging than my other media appearances, including those on Fox Business where I was interviewed on Judge Napolitano's Show.
I quickly realized that Mr O'Reilly looked upon me, a liberal or left-wing professor, as "fresh meat". I just as quickly resolved that I was not going to play along.
Whenever I was interviewed on television, I was accustomed to being escorted into the green room where guests were to wait by a friendly person, and offered snacks. None of this transpired. A grim-faced woman led me to a small room without food and water with a big television on the wall. As I sat there waiting, I watched Bill O'Reilly tear apart the head of the Republican National Committee, someone far closer to his point of view than I was. I quickly realized that Mr O'Reilly looked upon me, a liberal or left-wing professor, as "fresh meat". I just as quickly resolved that I was not going to play along.
My strategy was to be extremely polite and respectful, but constantly change the narrative that he was trying to establish with points on my own. But before that, I had to win his respect through time-honored methods honed in the masculinist working class ethos I was brought up in. Mr O'Reilly needed to know from the outset that even though I was a liberal professor, I was not someone he could push around, that if in fact it actually came to a fight, I could kick his ass.
So it had to start with the handshake. As I walked into the studio with a big smile on my face, I assumed my most intimidating posture, looked him straight in the eye, and shook his hand with what he must have thought surprising firmness (I have tennis balls cut in half on my office desk which I squeeze regularly to strengthen my forearm). Then I sat down.
When the discussion started, it became clear that O'Reilly's agenda was to show that what he called "Black Racism"—which he claimed was at play when Black parents and students protested a white teacher taking over their school's black history course—was a bigger problem than White Racism.
So I had to change the narrative early. First, I had to say that the Ohio parents concerns were reasonable. That given how US history had been written and taught, it was hardly unreasonable to look upon a white person teaching African American history with some skepticism. I also said that context was important. When I was hired to teach courses on Black History at Fordham, there were six black professors full time and part time, that students could choose from. That is a very different situation from a school where there is only one Black History course taught by one teacher.
The area in which I agreed with Mr O'Reilly is that should be no hard-and-fast rule about who can teach a particular subject based on their background. But I vehemently disagreed with his suggestion that the Black parents and students in that Ohio school were "racist." Given that there was only one Black history course in the school, it was reasonable that they try to find a Black person to teach it,
We sparred about the Ohio situation a moment, but then I decided to seize the podium before Mr O'Reilly did by saying "Look, reasonable people may disagree about the Ohio controversy, but one thing we can't lose sight of is that White Racism remains a HUGE problem in American society something that CANNOT be compared to whatever alleged discrimination whites experience at the hands of Blacks."
Then, before he could catch a breath, I said the following.
"Look Bill. I am not some Ivy Tower Professor. I spent 20 years coaching CYO basketball and sandlot baseball in Brooklyn. Just last week, my friend Gary Nielsen, a NYC firefighter, took his younger son and one of his friends, who happened to be Black, to his summer home in Breezy Point, an enclave filled with mostly Irish cops and firemen. When his son and his friend went to get a snack at a local take-out place, a woman came up to them, and screamed at his Black friend "get out of here, you don't belong here" and kicked him! Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing, and much worse, that Black people face every day. To compare the suspicion a white teacher experienced when trying to teach a Black history course to this kind of experience doesn't reflect the lived realities of Blacks and whites in this country"
Mr. O'Reilly never expected this and he ended up being at a loss for words. And just as I finished my remarks, I was told time was up!
As the show ended, I shook Mr. O'Reilly's hand and said " I really enjoyed this, I hope I will be invited back to continue his conversation"
I never was.
And now that Mr O'Reilly is off the air, I guess I never will be.
With A Brooklyn Accent