CNN’s Black in America

Posted: July 25, 2008 in Uncategorized

Yeah, I’ve been missing in action for about a week due to a ton of research I’ve had to do for number of projects. However I think I’m back to the blog on a regular basis, so let me talk about this interesting series on CNN this week produced by Soledad O’Brian, Black In America.

I have basically two thoughts about it. First, I think that its encouraging that more of us are moving into the middle-class. This represents real progress and demonstrates that many of the barriers that once existed in my parents generation are falling away. The series does a good job underscoring the importance of education and hard work as the single most important factor in escaping poverty. As bad as the economy is – and it is bad right now, make no mistake about it – America is still the land of opportunity where a person actually has a shot at improving his station in life if he is prepared to dream big and make sacrifices. Sounds like a cliche I know, but it is true. If it were not so, Barack Obama wouldn’t be an arms length from the White House and people from all over the world wouldn’t be risking their lives trying to get in this country. Any way you look at it, one could not help feeling proud to see a young, Black Harvard economist or an beautiful family of five excelling in college. There were many inspirational scenes in part one of the series that I think provide real hope for the future.

My second observation however is not so optimistic. It seems that there are really two Black Americas, the educated class moving forward and upwards, and the economically marginalized fighting a grim battle for survival. The segment on the Kennedy family, the single Black father raising his two kids who was later evicted from his home, was extremely painful to watch. It was truly heart-breaking, may God help that family. For the other segment of the Black community, the working poor, life is precarious and uncertain. Any day one could find himself/herself homeless, in jail, or dead. Again, the women we saw raising five children on her own, obviously unable to afford some much needed dental work which could help her attract a husband, was sad and depressing as well. In other words, you could see that in trying to keep that family above water, she had totally neglected herself, which is the reality for so many of the woman in our community.

The statistics on AIDS and out-of-wedlock birth (70%) was both shocking and scandalous! In my city, Washington, DC, one out of every twenty people has AIDS! That’s an epidemic too frightful to even imagine, but that is the world we live in now. In this segment of our community, life is hard and getting harder, and there are no easy answers.

But again, the program didn’t solely focus on the negative, but highlighted some bold and innovative approaches to solving these problems. Take for example that Harvard economist, who’s name is Roland Fryer, whose paying elementary students to score high on tests. This is a bold experiment which is off the beaten path, and one I applaud and hope succeeds.

In any event, I too want to be part of the solution. One of the most important themes that ran through yesterday’s episode is that those of us who’ve been educated and doing fairly well (of course that is not always the same thing) must reach back and pull a brother or sister up. Its another cliche but still true. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and will continue to engage these problems on this blog.

Oh, and one more thing. Will someone please tell Soledad to get rid of the stupid, ridiculous “spoken word” artist from the begininig of the program. It is so out of place given the grave nature of the discussions in the series. Not to be unkind or unappreciative, but I’m almost positive that’s O’Brian’s “tragic mulatto” guilt kicking in (another issue discussed, interracial marriage), but I’m not going to hate on her though because other than that, she did an admirable job.

Comments
  1. DC Muslimah says:

    (This is also posted on Tariq Nelson’s blog.)
    I enjoyed Part II of CNN’s “Black in America” series, particularly in comparison to Part I. I liked that a broader range of scholars and celebrities weighed in on issues highlighted in the series, particularly the drug epidemic, absentee fathers, corporate America, incarceration, rap and the media, etc. CNN also did a good job in selecting a somewhat diverse range of Black men to interview, including those who are successful despite having overcome certain odds and those paying a high price for poor decisionmaking and socioeconomic factors, as well as those who have grown up in solidly middle class families. It was certainly not all encompassing in terms of the range of Black males in the U.S., but to do so would have proven difficult. Tonight’s series also did a much better job of answering the “why” or the contributing factors that perpetuate these disparities such as enduring prejudice, low expectations, media portrayals, environment, absentee fathers, etc, etc. This is not to suggest that “choices” are not also to blame, but we can not ignore socioeconomic, environmental, psychological and other factors that ultimately contribute to negative decisionmaking among Black men. The self-fulfilling prophecy of low-expectations, for example, is very, very powerful when it comes to under achievement in school.

    As I think about it, however, perhaps a greater focus on environment would have been good. The chances of young men graduating and a life of success are severely diminished when one has not acquired the educational and other tools needed to succeed. How many young men, for example, who are part of the 50% that graduate who attended under-performing schools will likely succeed economically, etc. based on how success is defined in the U.S.? Not many! It also would have been nice to hear from more young Black males, including those in majority or minority colleges, in under- and high-performing high schools, men resigned to street life, etc. Again, I think there’s only so much that could be covered in the span of 2 hours, with commercials, etc.

    Overall, young males in inner cities and rural communities face tremendous difficulties in trying to lift themselves out of poverty and harsh environmental circumstances (i.e. underperforming schools, little access to job opportunities and healthcare, neighborhood violence, drug culture, few positive role models, etc., etc.). To underscore this point, it might have been nice to highlight the young man from Part I who attended the Brooklyn public school again, who could very well fall through the cracks due to his economic circumstances. Although, I have a feeling that he will do well because he has a strong father figure in his life and takes a lot of pride in his academic success. Alhumduallah! It would be nice to start a college fund for him or to help his father in some way.

  2. I think that the poet was put there to attract those who watch Def Poetry which has a wide audience. This show was aired on CNN not BET or HBO so Soledad did something great, even if more mature audiences couldn’t understand it. Young people are the first who need to see this, and if she couldn’t get a rapper or an actor, at least she got someone who may have attracted some of the young people to watch.

    Salaams

  3. Dynamite Soul,

    That is an excellent point that I hadn’t considered. Thank you.

  4. You’re welcome. The poet was odd to me at first.

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