It's about our community and our spirituality!

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.

Saturday, July 19, 2008 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, CNN, Life, Racism, Soledad O'Brien, Thoughts


  1. I read your comments and would like to counter. Actually, this show was not titled only “Black In America.” That show (rather, documentary) will air on Wednesday night. The show you are referring to was titled “Black in America: Reclaiming the Dream” and had panels of educated, elite blacks discussing the problems of poor blacks. And overall, I thought it was a useful and intelligent way to spend my evening.

    The intent of the show was not solely to portray “what it is like to be black in America,” but I do agree with you on the unintended affect the tone of the show might have had on the American community of all races. Shows that focus on these very real ills can perpetuate the stereotype that black people need to get it together. It ingrains in the American story that black people somehow have a missing gene of common sense, or something, which is unfair and infuriating. We need to re-program America to learn and know the more positive developments of the black journey (something I don’t understand as a white woman, but something my father tried to explain to me through his experiences as a light-skinned black man).

    Back to the show, it focused mostly on black people who are dealing with poverty, and poverty fosters social ills no matter what your race is. (The white girls in Gloucester, MA came from financially struggling families.) Escalating poverty is the biggest problem America faces, because poverty is at the core of so many other issues. (I am not saying that every poor person is going to fail. I grew up very, very poor, myself. I’m just saying that starting off very poor is a big disadvantage in America.) It is not simply enough to try to “fix” the economy so that we all can have mindless jobs, either. That kind of thinking is similar to giving us a little bread and circus to keep us tame while the rich play.

    People-in-the-know need to share the “toolkit” for a successful and stable life: We need to rethink K-12 education; we need to teach financial skills to our young (savings, budgeting, planning, etc.); we need to teach entrepreneurial skills to both our young people and people of all ages. Hollywood and TV can help by changing our entertainment to value intelligence, personal responsibility, and other positive attributes over gluttony, greed, and vice. Our role models need to step up. The business community, churches, and non-profits should hold focus groups on how to best teach our children in today’s world, in the face of today’s realities. Research groups need to work together across the country to compare best teaching practices. We need to empower all young people of all races in America to believe in their potential.

    Each of is responsible to give back what we can to help us all.

    Theresa G, Boston

    Comment by Theresa | Sunday, July 20, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the feedback Theresa,

    If there are other shows, because I don’t consider what I watched an informative documentary but just another rehash of stereotypical black propaganda, I seriously doubt if they will be much different. This program and the others, the Black in America series, were marketed to the public as being able to educate America to what it is to be black in America. This was the marketing tag line CNN associated with these programs.

    But to be honest, I must confess there were a couple of nuggets of knowledge that I did enjoy from the program. One of the quotations of Doctor Cornel West from the program when he was asked about the endemic numbers of single mothers in the black community. Said Doctor West…

    “No doubt it is a major, major problem. I think it is always, we always have to connect this personal responsibility as a context. But what we have is a … we have a society in general that is obsessed with pleasure and property and power. And in such a context it is hard for mature love to emerge because when I hear the word marriage, marriage can be empty. It is some symbol if it is not mature love.

    Many marriages do not need to go on if they’re just manipulating each other. Let’s just get at the core of what marriage is about. What is mature love about? You have to have a sense of responsibility. But you also have to have attempted to master the art of intimacy. And intimacy requires vulnerability, requires taking a risk.

    But if it’s all about pleasure and property and power you don’t want to be vulnerable. You don’t want to take a risk. So you manipulate each other. So the problem is how do we hit that culture head on so it is not just a matter of having more marriages but having more mature love in a community that has been taught to hate itself.”

    We have been taught to hate ourselves and we are constantly being taught to hate ourselves. This program promotes the idea, the notion, that the black community is in itself the problem. We have deviant behaviors. We can’t get it done because our neighbors aren’t getting it done. And we again start to internalize the issues as if they are unique to ourselves and pointing the finger inward.

    This program did little to challenge the self hate of the black community and much to reinforce it.


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Sunday, July 20, 2008 | Reply

  3. I agree that this program in no way was talking about what it is like to be black in America. In fact this show should have been called what it’s like to be chastised in America. Because that is basically all that I witnessed, with a few tidbits of information thrown in to ease the monotony.

    Also, every problem that they spoke of was not endemic of the black community but problems for ALL communities in this country. There is not one community who is NOT dealing with HIV, unwed mothers, fathers out of the home and education.

    So why do we want to make it a black thing and then go about the task of showing why black people are so deviant, unmoral and stupid. This is the same old propaganda that we see all the time. We need to stop participating in this farce.


    Comment by theblacksentinel | Sunday, July 20, 2008 | Reply

  4. check out yahoo’s new article:

    interested on your own take

    Comment by sara lee | Sunday, July 20, 2008 | Reply

  5. Thanks for the feedback sara lee,

    But I’m going to have to get back to you on this one. I just heard a story about this on National Public Radio and I feel the need to do a full article on this.


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Monday, July 21, 2008 | Reply

  6. I raised two great and succesful daughter as a single parent.I must say I work my way to upper mangerment in a great company. I know my daughters are both succesful because I am a strong parent. I have also told them that thing will be better for them than me. My daughter choose to be single and are waiting to have children. The childhood I gave them was great we were never on welfare and I always had a job. The men in my life knew my childern were first in my life. After all this I married a great man and together we are raising my son. I have very high hopes for him and so does his sisters. I think if you have family any thing is possible. I have been bless to have a wonderful family and to learn the furtue up to you.

    Comment by LINDA WILLIAMS | Wednesday, July 23, 2008 | Reply

  7. Thanks for the feedback LINDA WILLIAMS,

    It is wonderful that you and your family are so blessed. If only everybody had the same opportunities for success. Even though I consider myself fortunate and somewhat prepared for the future, I also know that a lot of hard work can be for naught with a relatively small twist of fate.

    We live in an economic and social system that does not have a reputation for supporting each other in times of trouble. While we have a tendency to rally around some people, others face their calamities alone. I refuse to say that because I am fortunate everyone can simply make the decision to be fortunate. That would be somewhat naive. To give such a statement merit would give merit to the opposite view that if someone is unfortunate everyone can be just as unfortunate. It is true that you can do well by making the right decisions. But sometimes you can do everything right and still fall short. And on the flip side, you can do nothing right and life will still be a series of blessings, one right after another.

    The problem is that we tolerate great disparities in our social economic makeup. Some people will have to work much harder than others. Some people will find work with good companies. Some people will work with companies with management that couldn’t give a rat’s ass about their employees. Some people will have a good experience with their insurance company. Some people will file a claim on a day that the insurance company needs to shore up profits. Some people are part of communities with a reputation for honesty. Some people are part of communities with reputations for criminal behavior.

    You can be the greatest influence on your future. But sometimes the future is out of your hands.


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Thursday, July 24, 2008 | Reply

  8. Soledad O’Brien,

    I would like to first thank you for reading my email. My name is Deanne E. Meningall and I am writing you because I saw a commercial stating that you will have another Black In America II in July 2009

    I must admit that I watched only a portion of the expose’ on the first segment because I was quite disturbed when I noticed how one sided your report was because it depicted all of the possible negative statistics and issues in the Black community. If I were someone visiting from another planet I would think that this particular race of people have nothing to live for because all of the statistics were depressing and did not show a comprehensive view of black life; you emphasized the negative.

    Let me stop to add that yes, we have issues like any other group in this country that needs to be healed and rectified. I am not denying that although the statistics may represent a segment of the community; others exists equally and there are other people like myself who were not represented in the program. So needless to say, the program was outlining every possible aspect of black life as negative, apathetic and troubling.

    I am a proud African-American woman, born in Brooklyn NY in 1963. I am college educated and recently returned to school to acquire a Mind, Body Wellness Practitioner Certificate and in March 2009, I graduated with a 4.0 average. I am a nutritional life coach focusing women’s health, self-esteem and spiritual development. I am healthy, I work out 4-5 times a week, I am an author of a book entitled, The Melanin Diet and I come from a two parent household. My parents will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary in August. I am emotionally, and spiritually sound. At the age of twelve, I played at Carnegie Hall in a piano recital.

    By the age of 42, I had purchased two homes, one in Atlanta(purchased in 1993 for my 30th birthday, I still own) and one in Durham NC(purchased in 2005). I speak with perfect english, I do not listen to rap music and I do not use foul language. Most of my friends and acquaintances have similar histories, yet our stories are seldom told and never exposed to the masses at large.

    Might I add, I have never seen the inside of a jail or prison, I do not have a criminal record. I do not drink or use drugs. I would like to find out from you, Ms. O’Brien, will this type of story be represented in your up and coming Black in America II?
    I am a person who is proud of not only my personal accomplishments, but also the accomplishments of our community at large. Yes, we have come a long way and perhaps we still have a way to go, but considering our humbled beginnings in this country it is wonder that we have survived. This does not give us an out, however in order for our history to not be repeated, we must heal it and our past in this country.

    I hope that my letter is encouraging to you and will perhaps ignite a new approach to your next program. There are many proud, affluent, progressive and successful African American men and women in this country and we would choose our race again because we are a witness to our strength and the strength of our ancestors who have gone before us.

    I am available if you would like to contact me; I believe in your heart you will do the proper thing I pray that CNN does not have their intimidating foot on your neck dictating the subject matter and leaving you no room to illustrate various side.

    I will close by sending you the wisdom and understanding that to choose the best would exemplify who you are and who you are not as a journalist. We need to see a balance in media, not all African-Americans are angry, poor, HIV positive, uneducated, overweight and raising children as single parents.. Be well

    Blessings, Peace and Joy

    Deanne Meningall

    Author of The Melanin Diet–available now

    Living, The Melanin Diet–June 2009

    Comment by Deanne E. Meningall | Friday, April 10, 2009 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: