Black In America by Soledad O’Brien
I watched Soledad O’Brien’s Black in America presented by CNN and Essence Magazine. I must admit that I had a whole slue of doubts and reservations about this program. I would have rather watched Silence of the Lambs with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins that I recorded the night before from Encore. But the misses kind of wanted to watch it and I thought what the heck.
There was a notable array of high profile black people. There was Doctor Cornel West, Doctor Julianne Malveaux, Bishop T. D. Jakes, Tom Joyner, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Ed Gordon of Sixty Minutes fame, author Hill Harper, Professor Roland Fryer of Harvard University, and a few others. They even got a little input from D. L. Hughley. The last time I saw Mr. Hughley he was commenting about the accuracy of Don Imus’ statement about black women being nappy headed ho’s. My suspicions that I’d learn nothing meaningful or earth shattering about being black in America coming out of this shoe kicked up a notch or a dozen. But I continued to watch.
From the opening moment the program seemed to focus not on what it means to be black in America but on what it means to be black and slandered in America. The program started in by tying the problems of the black community directly to the fact that seventy percent of the children born from black women are born to single, unwed mothers. Another problem in the black community depicted in the program was the fact that there were so many cases of AIDS or HIV+ turning up among black women. Black women needed to take more control of their bodies and have more self esteem. One sister talked about how she was infected with the AIDS virus because she made the choice to have sex with an older man who was in denial about being a carrier.
Young black men were turning their back on getting an education. Young black men were not stepping up to the plate to take care of their children with all the women that they were getting pregnant.
According to this program to be black in America is to be a young, single woman with a baby and HIV or a single young man with multiple children from a variety of women and revulsion for education. The black community’s problem stem from a lack of our young people taking responsibility for the messes they make in their lives.
This program did nothing to show me what it mans to be black in America. Out of all the young black people that I know amongst my family and friends, not a single one has tested positive for HIV. None of the young black men that I know have fathered a child and all of them have plans to further their education beyond high school. None of the young ladies that I know have born a child out of wedlock. So I would have to assume one of two things. It is my opinion that the young black people that I know first hand are not indicative of what it means to be considered the stereotypical black person in America.
Young women having babies out of wedlock is not a phenomenon that is unique to the black community. Just a month ago CNN, as well as a host of other news agencies, was reporting on a group of white girls up in Gloucester, Massachusetts and their pregnancy pact which lead to a sharp increase in a number of white girls preparing to share their child bearing experience. Maybe these white girls wanted to experience what it means to be considered stereotypically black in America. And HIV and AIDS is not just a problem in the black community but a problem for America in general.
Young black men are not the only ones refusing to support their children. According to United States Census Bureau statistics there are seven point three million black children living in a household absent their father. There are ten point three white children living in a household absent their father. Some people will dismiss the fact that there are three million more white children living without their father by saying that the black population is so much smaller than its white counterpart. But the simple fact remains that there are more white children living without their fathers than there are black children. Because white children enjoy a lower rate does little to minimize the fact that they dwarf the number of black children living without their father by about three million.
This show does a disservice to people if its intent is to show what it actually means to be black in America. Like most programs that try to enlighten us as to what is happening in the black community, the entire group of black people will be judged by the lack of discretion of a relatively minor pool of black people. It is true that some black people have AIDS or are testing HIV+. But it is not indicative of all black people in America. It is true that out of wedlock births appear to be on the rise in the black community. But it also appears to be on the rise across the racial board throughout America.
What Ms. O’Brien has given us is a program that enlightens the public as to what it means to be the stereotypical black person in America. Black people are irresponsible and need to straighten up and fly right. This program gives credence to politicians who pander to the rest of America by holding the black community’s collective feet to the fire until America can release its strangle hold on the perception that black people are somehow more irresponsible than any other. According to Ms. O’Brien the lack of responsibility and courage to do the right thing is more than enough to explain the racial disparity that continues to plague America.
Unfortunately, this program did little to explain the reality of the majority of people in the black community and our relationship to the rest of America. The black community is more than the pool of irresponsible black people that many people, like Ms. O’Brien, have a penchant to focus on. One day we will learn as a people, both black and white, that the experiences of the black community are far greater than our need to prove the conjecture that the black community is its own worst enemy.