July 23rd, 2008
04:30 PM ET

The black men we hear about, and the black men we know

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.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2007/images/12/20/art.jami.jpg%5D

Jami Floyd
AC360° Contributor

"In Session" Anchor
I woke one morning thinking about black men. I had dreamt about black men in the night, having been bombarded by images of them the day before.

At the airport, I’d read a long article about the fall television schedule, and then-NAACP President Kwesi Mfume’s calls for more black and brown faces on television.

On the plane, I’d read also about Lawrence Russell Brewer, a white man who had been on trial in Texas for the dragging death – a lynching really – of James Byrd Jr., a black man. (He has since been convicted of murder and sentenced to death).

That night, I turned on the television in my hotel room only to see Martin Lawrence, “steppin' and fetchin'” on Fox. So, I turned off the tube and curled up into bed with Toni Morrison’s nobel prize-winning The Bluest Eye, a book I’d enjoyed to that point. But this night I read a chapter about a black man raping his daughter. Another starkly hateful and negative image of the black man.

So I closed the book and went to sleep.

And I woke that next morning thinking of these black men – and those who hate them: white men who hate black men, black women who hate black men, black men who hate themselves.

That was 2004. It was a presidential election year. And so it is again, this year. But in 2008 there is something dramatically different: Barack Obama is in the race. Race notwithstanding.

I never thought my father would live to see a black man in the White House. I never thought I would see it in my own lifetime. But now, we may both live to see that day.

September will mark father’s 82nd birthday. Born in 1926, he has lived through the Great Depression, a world war, the assassinations of some of our greatest leaders, his heroes. He served in Korea. He has been married for nearly 50 years, and has been a father for 40. He is a good decent black man.

And I know so many other black men. None of them shuck and jive through their days. Where I work, there are many who put in long hard days producing television pieces, carrying heavy camera and sound equipment, and generally contributing to the business of broadcast journalism.

I just this morning visited a family where three generations - father, son and grandsons - live and work together, building strong families and businesses.

I even know my share of famous black men, having interviewed Danny Glover, Lenny Kravitz, and Don Cheadle among many others.

These are the black men I know.

Now, four years after that dream I had in that hotel room that night, I also have a son. His birthday falls five days before his grandfather’s. I can only hope that by the time he is my age – 35 years into the future – we will have come to know the full breadth of the black male experience. The good. The bad. And everything in between. Perhaps, all those years ago, even before he was born, i was dreaming of - and for - my son and the next generation of black men.

Read more Jami Floyd blogs on “In Session”

Filed under: Black in America • Jami Floyd
soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Natasha

    I know a lot of great balck men.
    My husband,dad,brother,cousins,son,and nephews.
    We should not depend on Hollywood to educate us as a people.
    I see nothing wrong with the House of Payne or Martin.
    In my opinion,some people can never see the positive.
    Martin worked ,had transportation,and a place of his own.
    He married Gina before any kids was conceived.

    House of Payne-Main character work,take care of his kids,and in spite of all of life's curves,keeping his family together.

    My point is be the best person you can for your children.Stop depending on movie stars and athlete to be a role model.

    July 24, 2008 at 7:39 am |
  2. nan

    I would love to know how many of the people here generalizing all blacks even know any black people. You want to know why there is a CNN piece Black in America? This is why. Because clearly negative media images and stereotypes are what people go by. You want to talk about a so called free pass? Why is it that some white people think they have a free pass to generalize all other groups but in the same breath talk about how angry they are that THEY get stereotyped. If we ALL open our minds and hearts no doubt we find we have much more in common that we admit. Actually most of us know this already.

    July 24, 2008 at 7:30 am |
  3. Melissa (CA by way of FL and PA)

    Reading through these comments surprises me, though I shouldn't be surprised. I've been facilitating dialogues about issues of cultural identity for most of my life now and I'm always amazed at how we can feel all over the spectrum about these issues. I'm a multiracial person who is thankful that people are willing to talk about how identities, such as race, can affect individuals' experiences and perceptions of how they are being treated, what doors are opened or closed to them, etc. Thank you ALL for participating in this online discussion. I think it's a healthy, important conversation to have with one another. I'm amazed at how often people don't do the simplest thing–and that is to sit down and get to know other people: ask questions about their culture, take risks, learn to communicate...and ultimately, hopefully, how to build respectful communities.

    July 24, 2008 at 4:04 am |
  4. Lacey

    I applaude Senator Obama for opening up the door to discuss race relations in America – again. These documentaries will touch on only the surface of what African Americans face on a daily basis. No one really knows how an African American feels unless you walk in his shoes. A while back Tyra Banks "walked" in the shoes of an overwieight woman. I would challenge any reporter at CNN to disguise himself as an African American man and to follow his normal routine. See for yourself. The posters (I am a MAN) that protestors held during the civil rights years said it all. The Constitution still has African Americans as second-class citizens. Before the Europeans extracted Africans as slaves, they were proud people. Slavery was demoralizing. No other group of people arrived to America in chains. The younger generation of African Americans cannot relate to what older AA experienced because they want to be free and knowing the history makes them angry. It makes them have to reflect – and sometimes that hurts too much. So, they avoid knowing. The sad thing is – it's the lack of knowledge and disconnect with their history that facilitates their demise.

    July 24, 2008 at 3:54 am |
  5. Foley in Idaho

    Wow... I take that back; that was unfair to rick... I singled him out among so many idiots.

    There is no structured racism only individual personal racism. If anything, racism is structurally undermined. It's faulty individual interpretation of how America was structured that keeps this crap alive.

    Equality means equality. Equal protection and equal treatment under the law means exactly that. Equal treatment and equal protection under the law. Period. Racism is antithetical to the constitution and to the notion of a free and equal society. All these straw man arguements about 60% of violence against blacks is perpetrated by blacks, pot smokers, mexican and white conspiracies against blacks, blah, blah, blah is just that.... blah, blah, blah.

    Focusing on negatives of any communitty just accentuates that part.

    So thanks rick and others... for accentuating the negatives... within yourselves.

    July 24, 2008 at 3:38 am |
  6. James "YogiFish" Herring

    I would like to see a more honest discussion about what White American men think of Black American men. The problems I face have more to do with economic opportunities, then personal feelings towards me. I believe it's ok for a person to not like me for what ever reason. But, when it comes to my since of security and well being, other peoples opinions do matter.

    It's not what I or other Black men or women think of themselves, it's what those who hide their true feelings, in positions of power, that effect all of our lives.

    Thank You,

    James "yogiFish" Herring
    Online Televions Journalist

    July 24, 2008 at 3:28 am |
  7. herman

    black, black, black................enough already. We get it. Every time a show like this pops on TV, we are supposed to have some grand moment where the clouds part, the angels sing and we all reach a place of great enlightenment.
    Then reality sets in. The show ends, and nothing changes.
    Blacks still have the most kids born out of wedlock, commit the most violent crime,score the lowest on education tests. blah, blah, blah....
    At the end of the day, it's ALWAYS about parenting. If you got parents that care about their kids, they raise them to care about the world they live in. If you got parents that function at the brain stem level, that also shows in their kids.

    July 24, 2008 at 3:19 am |
  8. Foley in Idaho

    Wow... I think Fay might have missed a little something....

    Tyler Parry and Martin Lawrence act buffoonish because they portray bufoonish characters, not because they are playing buffoonish "black" characters. The characters buffoonery would be bufoonish even if they were any other color.

    THAT'S the subtle threat of prejudice. That while attempting to defend an idea or ideal we committ the act we are speaking out against. Why are those characters criticized as representatives of black bufoonery and not just bufoonery in general?

    So, Fay... I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you , but... you have become a victim. You have also victimized black men by associating the characters Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry play with black men as if those were accurate representations of everyday black men instead of purely comical ones.

    July 24, 2008 at 3:02 am |
  9. Kevin C.

    ...aight, i'm back....next I'll talk more about that special....1 part in particular: the part about single black women....now, before i start, let me clarify i dont care who anyone dates, marries, etc., to each their own....with that said, dont give me bs reasons....for those sisters to sit there and say there arent many or any brothers, lack of a better word, worthy enough to date is by far one of the most idiotic and laughable things....there are plenty of worthy brothers for those highly educated, successful, attractive sisters to date, sisters just chose not to date them.....and I'd wish they'd stop saying that lie about more brothers in jail then in college.....that is not true....it's true if you talking about everyone that's 18 and up; but if you look at say 18-25, more brothers are in college then in jail......anyway, like i was saying, yea, there are plenty of worthy brothers out there, sisters just dont want to date them for whatever reasons.....most of the time the reason is cause he isnt perfect.....with other races of men, sisters will let them "lack" in some areas, while they want brothers to be perfect....and by perfect i mean he needs to be a highly educated, financial stable, sensitive gentleman with morals, values, etc.; while also being a street smart, element of danger, hard "thug" that is a love making porn star in the bedroom....he needs to have a backbone and his own opinions, while also agreeing with everything she says......other words, someone that doesnt exist.....and since they dont find that perfect person, they tend to date a brother who isnt "expletive" thinking they can change him. When they cant change him, that's when you hear that idiotic talk of "there arent any worthy brothers out there...they all in jail".....and to have that chick that did that movie "something new" on there didnt help....she is a racist, that even though she is black, she looks down on darker skinned black people....if you dont believe me, look at what country she is from and what goes on there....she reflects their society......that's why she had a movie "by black women, for black women" pretty much telling sisters that brothers aint "expletive", so start dating whites....again, who you date, i dont care, just dont give me no bs reason....i say that cause you probably gonna spew your bs reason to others, and they gonna spew it to others, and so on until it's taken as truth.....oh, and dont think i'm just going after the sisters, cause us brothers do it too....we want a sister to be perfect while letting women of other races lack....and when we cant find that perfect sister, we end up messing with one that does us wrong, and we end up spewing that nonsense of "aint no good sisters left".....aight, i'm done with this post, but i'll be back.....

    July 24, 2008 at 2:59 am |
  10. Q

    Being an intelligent black man I feel that it is appropriate if I speak on the issue of our plight. A lot of us come from realities that other ethnicities cannot fathom nor understand. This in no shape form or fashion makes our struggle greater or lesser than their's because we all have our own problems which we handle accordingly. For me personally I can speak on the black experience because I am a black man. I come from the projects, but what hinders us sometimes is our mind states. The black community is divided, and many of us can't see beyond our project window. Dreams can come into fruition, and we as a people must hold steady in our belief that change will come. It is hard for a man or woman to still have dreams when the pressures of life come calling. Financial obligations, lack of love in the household, or anything that may lead a person to believe that there is no hope. All black men in our culture are not gang bangers, drug dealers, or aspiring rap artists. There are intellectuals out there who could prove vital to change, but media markets don't promote these people in our capitalist society. These people are not known, but if you ask a young child on the block who Lil Wayne or Young Jeezy is they will know in a heart beat. In regards to that genre of music the reason why it has such a strong effect is that a lot of people in these environments can relate to the struggles, or have people in there lives who are going through similar trials and tribulations. People not from these areas grow fascinated with the culture, and wish to actually bring it into there reality. This can prove detrimental not only to the black society, but to the world as we know it. I believe that relationships are another thing that we as black people need to work on. Black men and women must work on the way we communicate with another, because in this day and age we truly don't have an understanding for each other. A lot of us fear commitment, and a lot of us don't know what commitment is. We as a people must unite together or there will never be progress. I hope that Barack Obama can bring that leadership that we need in the black community, and the entire world, because change is desperately needed.

    July 24, 2008 at 2:54 am |
  11. Dan from Indianapolis

    I was afraid this special would draw controversy and go over many peoples head about the purpose of the show. It is not to place blame on white people and it certainely isn't reverse racism.

    The problem with many of us is that we only see things through our lense. It would be the same as me trying to undertanding everything that women go through in this country. I can't because I am not a female.

    Yes, It is true that there is a segment of the African American population that still is disproportional hit by poverty and out of wedlock births. This must stop, but there are still many successful African Americans that have broken barriers in politics, business, etc and they worked hard to get to that point. I get tired of people painting ALL African Americans as thinking the same.

    For the segment of African Americans that are hit with poverty this special is doing a great job of showing the mirror to this group by highlighting that things must change as far as personal choices in life.
    The biggest being the out of wedlock births.

    There, however still remains some schools in the inner city that continue to go underfunded and lack resources to do an effective job.

    In other words there still needs to be accountability from government to address these disparities, but it won't mean much unless the effected realize that they must step up to the plate and start to turn things around and make a better future for their children

    July 24, 2008 at 2:47 am |
  12. Kevin C.

    Wow, where do I start?...I'll start with the CNN special first....Now, when I first heard about this "Black In America" special, my first thoughts were the show was going to try to, for lack of a better word, "explain" black people to the rest of america. And guess what the show did? Just that. This special isnt opening any new discussions about race, it's saying the same things, just in a different way: with a racially mixed woman this time. The special isn't talking like blacks are apart of america itself, but more so like we're an outcast, a plague, or just a group of misuderstood beings that the rest of america needs help understanding. Like someone high up in CNN was sitting around and asked "why do blacks do this or that?", and someone answered "I dont know, let's do a special and find out"....Not only will we find out why they are the way they are, but it'll also look like we care about race relations in america. Seriously, the show explained what the term "baby daddy" meant lol. Now, if you have half a brain, I dont think it's hard to understand what a baby daddy is. The fact they explained that term showed who and the purpose of this special.......that's it for this post, but I'm not done posting....I'll be back....

    July 24, 2008 at 2:36 am |
  13. Renee

    Perhaps your adoration of black men will lead you to represent a more inclusive coverage than you did with the women. I would like to know where were the lesbians, prison inmates, sex trade workers, and trans gender women? Why don't they count as authentic enough black females in a documentary that is supposedly dedicated to black women. You did us a disservice tonight by erasing whole groups of women. All black women matter despite the way that society marginalizes certain bodies.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:51 am |
  14. Kevin, NC

    I wouldnt be any other color but black........

    July 24, 2008 at 1:39 am |
  15. Talulazoeapple

    There are so many wonderful things about being African American. There is so much beauty and passion in our brothers. I hope more prominent women sing their praises and lift them up. I appreciate your post.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:37 am |
  16. Michael Davis

    So "This is what it's like to be Black in America?"

    I was thoroughly disappointed in this show. I thought Part 1 would be a story of triumphs of black women and families. Instead, we got more of the same. This show could have been made with any race in mind...just show the most troubling parts of anyone's culture and then fade to commercial.

    I was expecting to see stories of triumph, and how sisters used their ingenuity and deep down resilience to make it in this country. I think of people like my Mother, who started out in the projects of North Philly. A single mom, she actually moved us to the worst apts in the suburbs so I could get a decent education (after pulling me out of school mid-year). Was it fun to be essentially integrating a school district? No. But I learned in a great environment that help me get to where I am. She raised 3 college grads (and one soon-to-be grad). My best friend's Mom was a crackhead but he got a Masters and is a sought-after teacher. Ish like that...not this nonsense that I see.

    And I'm not condemning every single segment, but I guess I'm frustrated y'all. CNN had a chance to transform coverage of Blacks in the media, but they opted for the easy way out. With their unlimited level of reach and resources it's a damn shame that this was the result.

    Has Soledad even seen a movie like "The Pact?"

    This show set up back years with respect to media perception. Fortunately, Barack will be on TV for the next 8 years as Prez and make people forget about this show.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:37 am |
  17. Benjamin Roger

    I am shocked with this episode Black in America. It seems CNN is trying to strengthen Obama's campaign. All of a sudden CNN is pumping sympathy over the air. You should ask yourself if an episode titled white in America was aired would it be racist? We can only have it one way in this country correct? This country is great and the black communities have had a struggle but this will set them back years. Everyone is responsible for their future. As (a white guy as your episode has put it, which is politically incorrect) I grew up poor only to be turned down by numerous universities because I WAS WHITE. But no I have not had a struggle right?. What about my ancestors who were enslaved in Austrailia? Doesn't matter about them right? Afterall no white GUY was ever enslaved right?
    All of a sudden Soladad O'brien has stumbled on a fabulous story right? I will never watch CNN again I will ensure all who I know are informed of this flat out racist episode. WHERE ARE ALL THE SUCCESSFUL BLACKS IN THIS EPISODE? NO can't show that right because that is not news. You should consider the consequences before you air such a slap in the face to a certain ethnicity.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 am |
  18. Tyone

    I'm 50 years old, black and so so tire of programs about black people. Told by white people, thought the eyes of white people. Discussions of white media stereotyping have tended to focus on how traditionally marginalized groups such as women, gay men, lesbians, and ethnic minorities have been negatively affected by stereotypical portrayals. But increasingly, scholars are considering how stereotyping privileges certain groups. There is a collective response to questions that concerns black Americans by the white media.White privilege is reinforced and supported by the white media. It seem that the white media won't asked the hard question.When it comes to WHITE PEOPLE! CNN has another program coming. That without seeing will just restate and continue the worst of the worst of black Americans. So as I see it CNN need to have a program. WHITES IN AMERICA... We as a country need this program given the fact. Whites are given position of authority and responsiblity more so then any other races in America. Stereotyping rumors and lies have to stop when it come to Black Americans. Maybe just maybe we as a people can start talking about white on white crime. Dead beat white parents, the state of the white marrige child molesting in the white family batter white women. White school drop out or how well OR NOT white are doing in college . Whites as the first recipicants of affirmative action before we call it that in America. We need to look into white discrimination in the work place. White police abuse or why are there so many incidents of white cops shooting black cops. White male and female prostitution,abortion in the white races. Hatred in the white community. Why so many white children are coming to schools and shooting them up. Etc etc etc........... A program of WHITES IN AMERICA will help white and all Americans!

    July 24, 2008 at 12:57 am |
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