I originally had such high hopes for the CNN series Black In America. Finally there was a platform on a national news outlet that was going to tackle issues directly related to Black people in America. Indeed the first episode did a good job educating both white and black America about certain aspects of the black experience. Several of the subsequent episodes however, have left me wanting.
This latest installment "Who is Black in America" critically highlights how far the show has stumbled from its lofty beginning. CNN has gone from discussing relevant African American issues to now spending an hour trying to tell us we don't know who is black.
If I was the producer of this show I could have made this show in 5 minutes: Roll tape. Show 500 black men 1 at a time. Caption: These are black people in America. End tape. Show over.
Of course my cynical view would not make for great TV, but at least it would show what was missing from the full CNN hour. There was NOT ONE segment, picture, story or mention of a dark-skinned black man. Instead the show focused on light-skinned black girls of mixed heritage and their struggle with racial identity. I do not mention this to diminish the relevance of their struggles, I mention it because the most obvious other side of the equation was not shown.
While characters like Nya (white father, black mother) and her friend (an egyptian born to two white parents) may have real issues with racial identity, millions of dark brothers and sisters have NO issue. The world tells them they are Black. The police tell them they are Black. Their parents tell them they are Black. Their neighbors and neighborhoods tell them they are Black.
This is the baseline for being black in America. Without showing the baseline for Black in America it is easy to see why these poor little girls on CNN are so confused about racial identity.
There IS a very real thing called the black experience in America. It is born out of the history of black people in this country. It is transferred from each generation of blacks to the next, just as it is done in Italy, Ireland, Spain or Russia. With this backdrop, how can some girl born in Egypt to two white parents call herself African American? This is as ludicrous as me saying I am Mexican just because I like Mexican food, enjoy Mexican culture and hang out with Mexican people.
A person is born black based on the race of their parents and irrespective of the lightness or darkness of their skin. Some who are light-skinned may be able to "pass" and, through their complete denial and abstinence from anything "culturally black", assume zero identification with the Black culture in America. Those who are dark as night can do the same thing. For both people however they are still Black.
To think of it another way a person born of two Irish parents can completely immerse themselves in Nigerian culture and attitude. This DOES NOT make the person Nigerian. He is an Irish person who lives his life in the way of the Nigerian.
CNN took a simple concept and made it so complicated and diluted that it served no one, especially the millions of Black people in America who know they are Black and are proud of it. Let's hope CNN does better next time.
Note: For all those readers who say that racial identity is a relic from the past that is not relevant in 2012 I have just one thing to say:
When the "Old Boys Network" is finally broken up.
When there are more than just 3% of black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies
When 90% of those racially profiled by police are not black or brown
When the prison population of Blacks is no longer 3 times the national average of Blacks in America
When banks stop getting convicted of racially profiling, targeting and cheating African Americans
When the KKK, skin heads and other racial hate groups are gone
Only then will racial identity be irrelevent in America
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