Jimmy Fallon Talks Blackface Controversy With Don Lemon, NAACP President

The 'Tonight Show' host apologized once again and examined his own failings in light of an old 'Saturday Night Live' sketch that resurfaced last week.

On a somber edition of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon apologized once again for wearing blackface in the past and discussed how the country should move forward after George Floyd's death with NAACP president Derrick Johnson and CNN Tonight anchor Don Lemon. 

At the top of Monday night's episode, the late night host noted that he was going to have a "different kind of show" in light of the weekend's nationwide protests. Noting that a sketch of him performing blackface on Saturday Night Live had reemerged the previous week, Fallon said that at the time he was "horrified" but was being advised "to just stay quiet and to not say anything" and heeded those recommendations. "So I thought about it and realized that I can't not say 'I'm horrified and I'm sorry and I'm embarrassed.'" After he apologized last week, Fallon said he talked to some experts, some of whom appeared on the show on Monday.

"The silence is the biggest crime that white guys like me and the rest of us are doing, staying silent. We need to say something, we need to keep saying something, and we need to say 'That's not OK' more than one day on Twitter."

With his first guest, Johnson, Fallon noted that he wanted to learn how to move forward "and figure out how to be a better ally." Johnson responded, "We are all born flawed, but flawed is part of the journey we are on to get to perfection. If anyone can stand up and say, 'I haven't made a mistake,' run, because that person is clearly a liar." He called this time an "opportunity" to understand one another better.

How to keep the momentum on understanding going, Fallon asked. Johnson advised, "Keeping the dialogue open, appreciating the uniqueness we all bring to the table and celebrating that uniqueness and not allowing demagogues to create otherness from people who may be different."

Later on in the show, CNN's Lemon, who earlier in the weekend had called for Hollywood figures to speak out about George Floyd's death and ensuing protests, joined Fallon. "That's exactly what we all need to do, examine ourselves. That was very honest and brave of you," Lemon said of Fallon's opening monologue. "I wish more people would do that because we can't go back to the way we were."

Lemon said that covering Floyd's death, as well as that of Ahmaud Arbery, has been hard on him in the past few weeks. "I lead from the heart and I'm very candid. … I don't always say the right things, but I always say what I feel in the moment and it's always real," he said. "We have to stop beating people up for mistakes because we're all human. We have to allow people to be human. We all have pasts and we're not perfect. We have to allow people to be flawed and have conversations like the one we're having."

Fallon asked what if anything Americans could be doing right now and Lemon replied "exactly what we're doing right now... Every time something like this happens we say 'we need to have a conversation', yes we need to have a conversation that is the very minimum. White people, get some black friends. Examine your social circles," he said adding that our personal networks have an influence on how we see the world.  

Striking a more hopeful tone, Lemon said there was a path to a better America if people stopped "making excuses for racism." "The biggest thing is to take some action. Use whatever platform you have, wherever you are and try to do something for a person of color, or understand a person of color or improve conditions. When something happens in the workplace that you perceive to be discriminatory, don't stand by, speak up!" 

The CNN host returned to his comments about the lack of action and public support from people in Hollywood, explaining that he didn't mean to "call people out … in a derogatory or negative way," and he apologized to those who were doing things behind the scenes. However, he said people in Hollywood should be helping the thousands of young protestors as well as helping "to change that narrative about 'All of this is rioting' and 'Black people are causing chaos.'" 

Lemon explained why he mentioned "bold names" in his commentary saying, "The reason I said that is because there's a vacuum of leadership in this country and we live in a very celebrity-driven society and people listen to artists of all kinds." 

He added, "It's a call to action for everyone to do what they can because it's a critical moment for our country."

Watch the entire segment below.