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August 9th, 2008
10:28 PM ET

Black In America... Let's start talking

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Soledad O'Brien reporting for 'Black In America'

Soledad O'Brien reporting for 'Black In America'

Soledad O'Brien
CNN Anchor and Special Correspondent

I'm on the phone with a confused reporter, and I'm confused too. She keeps asking me why I "count myself as black... And why does Barack Obama?" My answer (for Sen. Obama, at least) is "have you seen him?" But she won't let it go. "Is your father annoyed that you deny him?" My dad is white. I interject. "Let's conference him in," I say. "Listen, he married a black woman, he has six black children. He'd be the first person to tell you I'm black."

The questions, to me, reveal more about the asker. This (white) reporter surely doesn't know a lot of black people, or she wouldn't be struggling so hard. She'd know black people come in all hues.

Our documentary, Black in America airs on Wednesday and Thursday and now all anyone wants to talk to me about is race. A clear sign, if you ask me, that this is a discussion that's been long in coming.

The TSA screener at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson airport asks me if the documentary is "worth letting his sons stay up to see?" I tell him definitely yes.

It's an indication that the story of black people in this country needs to be told – a wide range of stories – some of successful blacks, stories of some who are struggling. We interview corporate execs and recovering addicts, parents who've proudly sent all six kids to college and single moms who are struggling. We have lots of stories that make up who we are – and guess what, we're more than rappers and ballers and Secretaries of State (though we are that too).

Which brings me back to the reporter. Finally I tell her "this is clearly more about you than about me. Why is it so hard for you to see me, and Barack Obama as black?" I'm trying to remember that talking about race is a difficult conversation and it sometimes means starting at the very beginning. Let's start talking.


Filed under: Black in America • Soledad O'Brien • T1
August 9th, 2008
08:24 PM ET

T.D. Jakes: How do you respond to “I don’t want to get blacker, Daddy!”

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Bishop T.D. Jakes
Senior Pastor, The Potter’s House

I am delighted to see a continued rational discussion about race relations in this country. I know many find it painful and some would rather not discuss it at all. But like a good marriage, sometimes communication is the only way to create unification. Therefore, I applaud CNN for having the foresight to lead a discussion that hopefully will produce more love and a shared concern for people you see every day but might not know what they see when they live in the same world and breathe the same air that you do.

Often I pen words as a pastor, sometimes as an entrepreneur, and occasionally as a citizen with an opinion. But today, I have been asked to share a story as a father, and a person of color, who knows firsthand the challenges of raising children of color. I love this country and I am very proud to be an American. In spite of its many challenges and disappointments, I fervently believe that the benefits of living in the United States ultimately outweigh the liabilities.. But in the interest of sharing a “what is it like to be you” story, I will add this one to the discussion. To be sure, we are not all monolithic. Many, many, blacks have raised their children surrounded by masses of blacks and have faced a different challenge than mine.

I have twin boys who are almost 30 years old now. But when they were very young, I was sitting with both of them in the predominantly white environment of my home in West Virginia talking about things fathers discuss with their sons. I shared with one of my sons, that when I was his age my skin tone was very much like his, very light. In a matter of fact way, I mentioned that as I got older, my skin darkened and changed to become much more like his brother’s skin, which was darker.

FULL POST


Filed under: Bishop TD Jakes • Black in America
August 9th, 2008
07:10 PM ET

No, I don't play for the 49ers

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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T. J. Holmes
CNN Anchor

I'm 5' 11" and 165 lbs. I don't know many people who would look at me and think I played professional football. But, would you believe, a man thought it was more plausible for me to be a professional football player than a college graduate with a successful career.

I haven't come in contact with a lot of blatant racism in my life. Yes, I've been called the N-word. To be honest, it never really upset me because as soon as that word comes out of someone's mouth, I'm pretty sure that I've won the argument. That person has just confirmed how ignorant they are.

I don't necessarily consider most people racist. I have, however, seen a lot of racial bias. What I mean by that is people don't hate me because of the color of my skin, but they simply don't see me as an equal. FULL POST


Filed under: Black in America • T.J. Holmes
August 9th, 2008
06:40 PM ET

Being Black in America

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Martin Luther King, III

There is an important conversation taking place across the nation regarding being Black in America. It may be characterized by three questions Blacks seem to be asking: From where have we come? Where are we now? And, where do we go from here? CNN’s “Black in America“ documentary is a fresh and compelling entry, focusing more on the second question than on the others. One very noticeable thing about the documentary is that it joins a new cast of characters, from academicians to journalists, entertainers to everyday citizens, who are not the faces and voices traditionally associated with the subject.

This crew, colorful and articulate, is empowered by 24/7 cable news and the unfettered reach of the Internet. They are a new generation of thinkers and doers, impatient with the status quo, who feel “the fierce urgency of now.” They are telling of a tectonic change in the plates that undergird our long-held understandings of being Black in America. And, they are challenged by the opportunities most ardently symbolized in the remarkable story unfolding in this year’s presidential election.

But, not so new is the “now-not yet” tension one feels observing being Black in America today. During the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century, my father wrote eloquently of a similar anxiety in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Then the tension was between African Americans’ “now”, who wanted speedy redress to segregation, and many whites’ “not yet”, particularly, among the clergy, who protested the Movement’s demands for immediate remedies as untimely. FULL POST

August 9th, 2008
04:02 PM ET

Anchor opens up about his race

Program Note: In CNN’s Black in America, Soledad O’Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We continue the discussion on the blog with insight and commentary related to the investigation.
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We reached out to CNN's Don Lemon to be part of our 'Black In America' blog coverage, asking for a telling experience, or a moment in his life that could shed light on what it means to be black in America.

What we received was a very personal blog entry. You can read it here. The reaction from the online community was incredible. The reaction from his own family proved equally strong. Don Lemon shares why he wrote the blog, what being 'Black in America' means to him, and what the blog meant to his family.

Here he talks about race in his family… how his great grandmother worked for a white man… and that man raped her:

FULL POST


Filed under: Black in America • Don Lemon
August 9th, 2008
03:46 PM ET

I am neither black nor white. I'm both

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Editor’s Note: Lynn Whitfield is an Emmy Award winning actress famous for her role as Josephine Baker in 'The Josephine Baker Story.' Her other films include 'A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,' 'Gone Fishin’' and 'Eve’s Bayou.' Below is a response from her and her daughter after watching Black In America's 'The Black Woman and Family.'

Lynn Whitfield
Actress

My daughter Grace and I watched the premier of CNN’s groundbreaking "Black in America." I thought we would have lively discussions around many of the themes concerning black women in this country. However, when she saw the segments on interracial marriage and the children of those relationships, she had a visceral response.

I saw an activist being born.

Grace seemed ready to adapt James Brown’s black anthem to her cause: "Say it loud, I'm blended and proud!" I saw my daughter stand up for the equality of blended people like herself in all her olive-complexioned, big curly afro-like glory. She went immediately to the computer with dignity, passion and everything but a fist in the air and wrote the statement you are about to read:

Watch the 'Black In America' story Lynn Whitfield and Grace Gibson are reacting to
Watch the 'Black In America' story Lynn Whitfield and Grace Gibson are reacting to

Mixed in America
Grace Gibson (16-year-old daughter of Lynn Whitfield)

Although I found this segment of “Black in America” to be highly informative for the general public, I was disappointed that the interviews in the section on what it is like to be biracial in America seemed to focus only on the more negative aspects. With the eyes of the world now on Barack Obama, I had hoped for a more balanced discussion on what a positive symbol a mixed race person can project.

FULL POST


Filed under: Black in America • Lynn Whitfield
August 9th, 2008
12:20 PM ET

Two Brothers, Two Paths: Shades of Race

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Editor's Note: Michael Eric Dyson is a University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, and author of 16 books, including the New York Times bestseller, "April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death and How it Changed America."

Michael Eric Dyson
University Professor of Sociology, Georgetown University

As a black man who is also a professor, preacher, media commentator and author, I routinely write and talk about issues that affect the entire black community, from class warfare to the debate over hip hop. Although I write from as balanced and scholarly a perspective as possible, there’s no denying that often the subject hits home quite closely. Sometimes, it’s not merely academic.

For instance, I’ve written and spoken quite a bit about the prison industrial complex. I can’t deny that my brother Everett’s condition of being locked away for life, for a murder I believe he didn’t commit, fuels my determination to see black men treated more justly and to see the criminal justice system reformed. When I visit him, and see this intelligent and gentle soul corralled like an animal, it hurts. And I don’t view him, or other men who’ve made destructive choices in their lives, through rose tinted shades. I understand the harm and pain wreaked on their families and communities by black men who choose to live beyond the law. But I also understand that persistent racial discrimination often colors how we negatively perceive black men who make mistakes, while offering far more chances to white men who err.

FULL POST

August 9th, 2008
11:10 AM ET

AIDS: The Cavalry is not coming to save us

Program Note: In CNN’s Black in America, Soledad O’Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Editor's Note:
This morning the Black AIDS Institute released a report entitled “Left Behind! Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic” The report praises U.S. efforts to address HIV worldwide, but criticizes what it terms a weaker response to the epidemic at home.

According to the report:

  • There are more black Americans living with HIV than the total HIV populations in seven of the 15 countries receiving PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).
  • In areas such as Detroit, Washington D.C. and the Deep South, HIV rates among segments of the black community approach those of countries in Africa.
  • If black America were its own country, it would rank 16th in people living with HIV; 105th in life expectancy and 88th in infant mortality worldwide.
  • The U.S. response to its domestic epidemic is so weak that the country would fail to qualify for its own emergency AIDS relief program.

Pernessa Seele, who founded the group Balm in Gilead to disseminate accurate information about AIDS to black churches across the U.S, shares with us her view:

Pernessa Seele
Founder/CEO, The Balm In Gilead

I lift my hat off to CNN for its series on Black In America. Having grown up in the segregated South (Lincolnville, S.C.) and now at the age of 53 living in Richmond, Virginia, I can certainly speak of some of the changes and some of the “same ole thing” that black people encounter daily in these great United States. Health care is one of those areas that I must point to as the “same ole thing”, particularly the U.S. response to HIV/AIDS among African-Americans.

The response to AIDS in Black America has been awful. The average American (black and white) can only relate to the devastating AIDS epidemic in Africa, with no clue of the horrendous suffering Black Americans are enduring right here at home. America’s response to AIDS in Africa has been billions of dollars more than its response to its black citizens at home. FULL POST


Filed under: Black in America • Pernessa Seele
August 9th, 2008
10:41 AM ET

After Dr. King, it's still black and white

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Reverend Al Sharpton
President, National Action Network

It was a brisk Saturday morning in November 2006, and I was en route to the weekly action rally at National Action Network in Harlem when my cell phone rang asking me to intervene at Jamaica Hospital in Queens where a young Black male had been killed by police. On the other end of the phone was Nicole Paultre, a 23-year-old woman who told me that her fiancé, Sean Bell had been shot and killed by the police early that morning.

I could not get anyone on the phone at the hospital where Sean and his friends were, (Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, who were also shot). So I turned my car around and rode over to the hospital to obtain more information. That moment started what became the Sean Bell movement for justice, to put an end to police misconduct in communities of color.

FULL POST


Filed under: Black in America • Rev. Al Sharpton
August 9th, 2008
09:02 AM ET

Study: Black man and white felon – same chances for hire

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET


We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Editor's Note: Devah Pager is Associate Professor of Sociology and Faculty Associate of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University.

Devah Pager
Princeton University

Is racial discrimination a thing of the past?

Debates about the relevance of discrimination in today's society have been difficult to resolve, in part because of the challenges in identifying, measuring, and documenting its presence or absence in all but extreme cases. Discrimination is rarely something that can be observed explicitly.

To address these issues, I recently conducted a series of experiments investigating employment discrimination. In these experiments, which took place in Milwaukee and New York City, I hired young men to pose as job applicants, assigning them resumes with equal levels of education and experience, and sending them to apply for real entry-level job openings all over the city.

Team members also alternated presenting information about a fictitious criminal record (a drug felony), which they “fessed up to” on the application form. During nearly a year of fieldwork, teams of testers audited hundreds of employers, applying for a wide range of entry level jobs such as waiters, sales assistants, laborers, warehouse workers, couriers, and customer service representatives.

The results of these studies were startling. FULL POST


Filed under: Black in America • Devah Pager