Black In America Is Not About The Black Community
It should come as no surprise that I didn’t expect much out of Soledad O’Brien’s earth shattering documentary Black in America being featured on CNN. Ms. O’Brien has never given me the impression that she recognizes or understands or sympathizes with the issues that plague the black community. In fact, none of the reporting on the CNN network has given me the impression that these people are aware that the black community even exist.
I remember watching CNN when Tony Harris was reporting breaking news on the incident that became known as the Jena Six more than a year after the incidents were initiated. While CNN was busy reporting on such perils as the dangers of people having fat pets or Roland Martin reporting on What Would Jesus Do to talk about the commercialization of Christmas or some other nonsense from Jenny Moost, six young black men were being railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor for second degree murder for a school fight with a young white man. The network could have given a rat’s ass about this first class example of racial prejudice and racial discrimination. And instead of the network reporting the facts of the case, the article simply reported the opinion of people living in Jena, Louisiana. We were given a chance to hear what the white people of Jena think and then we were given a chance to hear what the black people of Jena think. Then we were allowed to formulate our own opinion about what actually happened.
So when CNN started promoting its Black in America series with the tag line, everyone will learn what it means to be black in America, I honestly didn’t expect much. But I could have been wrong and waited with everyone else to see what CNN thinks being black in America means.
I’ve seen four of the segments. There was the one that started with the report from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee talking about Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior and his dream for the black community. There was the report from the town hall where some notables from the black community got together to discuss issues of education in the black community. Wednesday was a report about individual experiences of a handful of black people in America. And Thursday night’s broadcast focused on a few stories about how some black men can make the American dream and make it very successfully while some black men will suffer the American nightmare of incarceration, drugs, alcohol, and poverty. I watched these shows and I’ve come away scratching my head and wondering what exactly is the common connection all these people have that makes their experience exclusive to the black community.
I know for a fact that there are white people who suffer with poverty and poor education. I really don’t think the black community has an exclusive on this experience. I know that there are white people in America who have to deal with losing their homes and being evicted for not being able to pay the mortgage or paying the rent. I know there are white women who are raising their white children alone because the white father is absent. I know there are white people who are looking at dating outside their race. I know there are white people who are doing well while their siblings are doing poorly. I know for a fact that there are white people who suffer with issues of drugs and alcohol. Believe it or not, I know there are white people who get thrown in jail. Are we to believe that these white people are now experiencing what it is like to be black in America?
These shows do little to show me what it means to be black in America. Ms. O’Brien has simply taken the experience of a handful of black people and pasted their stories into a documentary. If somebody did the same thing with people from the white community, who would come away with the impression that they now know what it is like to be white in America? While some people might find the program entertaining not every white person would relate to these examples. There really is no reason to think these stories define what it means to be black in this country.
I was hoping to see something that would help to explain what people in the black community are going through as a collective. Black people have to deal with higher rates of school dropouts. Why? Black people have to deal with higher rates of unemployment. Why? Black people have to deal with higher rates of incarceration. Black people have to deal with higher rates of home foreclosures. Why? I was hoping to learn what the main components were of the complex social issues that all of these black stories share in common.
The purpose of the program was never to show the issues facing the black community. The program was designed to show instances of how black people choose not to respond responsibly to their environment for whatever reason. I came away thinking that we are depicted as simply surviving instead of assessing our situation and planning to act accordingly. Many of us simply refuse to pick ourselves up by our boot strap and instead simply adapt to our circumstances. The majority of people in the black community continue to do what we do and simply hope for the best outcome or we simply fail to better ourselves for our future and the future of our families. And all of this of course happens in a vacuum without any external influences from outside the black community. As far as being an eye opening documentary on life for black people in America, this piece of work falls terribly short.
But in at least one respect, Ms. O’Brien really does hit the nail on the head on what it means to be black in America. To be black in America is to be depicted in the most simplest of terms. Negative experiences of most black people are the result of a stereotypical lack of planning and black people’s refusal to take responsibility for developing their own solutions. Some black people made it. Black people who study hard will get the good job and the nice house and drive the nice car and will become examples of how it can be done for others in the black community. Because we all know that if everyone in the black community gets a doctorate today come tomorrow unemployment will drop to zero. Black people who make the choice to stop acting like typical black people will stop being typical black people in America.