"I don't know if O'Reilly should get a pass as a journalist on that level of ignorance," she said. "He's meant to be more curious about the world than his own experience."
Others were less circumspect about O'Reilly's comments. Seth Moglen, an associate professor of English and Africana studies at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, said O'Reilly's remarks were "disturbing," "deliberate" and "destructive."
"It was anything, but innocent," said Moglen. "It's a dangerous kind of speech that is veiled with respectability."
Though he stops short of saying the provocative journalist should be censored or fired, he argues that O'Reilly's employers should not give him a stage for speech rooted in racism and violence.
"What makes this so serious is that while he is pretending to say something positive about an important institution and black life in Harlem," said Moglen, "but what he really is doing is recycling a set of deeply toxic stereotypes rooted in slavery and violence in the U.S. This is nothing trivial at all."
Moglen, who is white, picks a part O'Reilly's language. The talk show host is really saying blacks are different from white people, obscene and "outside the moral and cultural mainstream of American life."
"He thinks he can get away with this," said Moglen. "I don't think we should be thought police, but there are very real implications of violence in these stereotypes and they do real damage."
"I hear from white students every day that it is fine for them use [the n-word], because they heard it on a rap song or they were just joking when they call a woman a whore," he said.
But Carol Swain, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her book, "The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration," said O'Reilly's comments open the door for reversing the stereotypes.
"I don't think we should be offended," she said. "He has a huge audience of people who are similarly naive, and this might actually help race relations."
"It shows the isolation of some white people, but if you get to really know blacks you will not be as fearful of the culture," said Swain. "We are people just like them, and we go to the bathroom the same way and eat the same way. We are not a strange species."
Swain says the mood of political correctness has gone too far. When people, like O'Reilly, are allowed to make fools of themselves "you can understand where they come from."
"We all say things at times that are inappropriate and misinformed and outright ignorant," she said. "If people started censoring themselves out of fear of offending, it cuts down on communication and forecloses dialogue."