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.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/22/art.bia.soledad.jpg caption="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
soundoff (312 Responses)
  1. Dean

    From the day I was born, racism has always been my shadow. My mother, White, the youngest of fourteen children born of Italian immigrants. My father, Black, an only child born in Winter Park, Florida. My mother originally followed the family tradition of marrying within her race. She had three children and divorced. She then met my father. To her families dismay, she married my father in the very volatile 60's. Her family severed all ties with my mother shortly there after. I have never met my maternal family members. With 13 Aunts and Uncles living right here in Rochester, I'm sure I have a boat load of cousins. I might work with one of them, but I would never know.

    My father died when I was six. Picture this....A White mother, three White kids and the little Black girl with the kinky, unkempt hair that no one in the house knew how to take care of. My mother would wait a month or two and then take me to someone to comb through the mess. I would scream and cry while whomever faced with the task that month would try to comb through the mangled locks. Sometimes they would have to cut big pieces of my hair out because they couldn't comb through it. As I got older, I learned how to take care of my own hair and that could be the reason why I wear my hair short to this day, but the painful experiences didn't stop there. When my family and I would go out to restaurants, the host/hostess would always address my mother the other kids first and then come to me and ask, "can I help you?" When we were out and about doing things, people would always ask my mother, "who is the little black girl?" When she would tell them I was her daughter, they would always get that same funny look on there faces. Then there was the time when my brother who was grown and married at the time, wouldn't let me come over to his house because a friend of his was over that didn't like Black people because a Black man had killed her husband.

    I won't go into the hundreds of other life scarring family situations I have endured. I will save those for the Therapist's couch or my book. But, I will say again, "Racism is alive and well"!

    July 23, 2008 at 8:17 pm |
  2. James - Los Angeles

    I think its great that black culture is being explored. As a race and culture , they have overcome unbelievable odds and discrimination.

    I think that black is a cultural identity and it is my opinion that all cultural idenities are learned. If a white child is adopted and raised by a black family, that child has more claim to that black identity than a black child raised in a white family.

    I think that black culture is beautiful and powerful. It makes a significant contibution to American society and is an undenaible aspect of our greatness as a nation.

    James (white)

    July 23, 2008 at 8:16 pm |
  3. James, NV

    Hey people were not still in the sixties! This whole thing about whites being racist of African Americans is getting old and tiresome. I see more racism coming from the older generation of blacks towards whites nowadays. Look at the whole Rev. Wright thing and then the younger generation with the whole Jena six situation when at the BET awards they get a standing ovation for putting a "white kid" in the hospital. My point is that it is time to let go of the past and start being plan AMERICANS, were all in this together and we need to build a strong UNIFIED country.

    July 23, 2008 at 8:15 pm |
  4. len

    This whole conversation about Black and White, from a White persons view point, has nothing to really do anymore with color. It has more to do with perception.

    From the view of many White people, Black people have their own way of talking, walking, and carrying themselves which, quite frankly White people do not value or respect. It does not "fit" with English taught to them in school.

    Words without the correct meaning are inserted into sentences to complete the "speak". These are unique to Black people and seem to be purposely different than what is taught or accepted as proper.

    It is not about color anymore – it is about purposely being and acting and behaving differently that what is normally accepted. I do agree this come from a White perspective, but English and Grammar are taught in school in the accepted way. It just seems Black people speak and act differently to, well, be Black and different from White people.

    This is wrong. We all live together and should speak and behave in a similar manner. Obama gets this – as you can see by his actions. It is also why he has been so successful for a Black or White person. And that is how it should be. He does not act "White" as I have heard Blacks say .... he just uses proper English and behaves as a person. Period.

    July 23, 2008 at 8:14 pm |
  5. Grace

    White people do not understand the racism that Black people face in America today.

    I am a sales representative for a large pharma company and travel all over the southeast calling on customers. Sometimes, I travel with a white, male co-worker. When I do, it's as though I'm not even there. Our customers look right through me. Some don't even shake my hand!

    White people will probably never completely understand, but CNN's Black in America will at least help us get closer.

    July 23, 2008 at 8:14 pm |
  6. Wilson

    Soledad, I love all of your specials.

    That aside, like many others I don't understand completely why you identify as black. I'm not suggesting that you should not, but had you been raised in a country where racial discrimination was not so prevalent and where the law imposed that identity on you because you carry one drop of black blood, do you think it would it be as important to identify as black?

    Miss you in the morning.


    July 23, 2008 at 8:13 pm |
  7. kayla

    As the mother of biracial children me being a white cuban and my husband a black man. I identify my children as being black as well. I know my children identify with the black culture more so than white or even hispanic because of who and what they were raised around. I guess like you pointed out yes black people come from different backgrounds, but majority of whites that may have never been around black people initally think of how they see black folk on t.v. not a well spoken women like yourself. Or a very educated, well composed man such as Obama on the way to the most powerful seat in the country as "black". And maybe subconsciencly thats how they expect or would perfer to continue to see black people as some sort of comfort for their psyche.

    Not that everything is racist either seen a lot of that on the board but there are differences in races. Not that its bad or even good I really find it funny. And someone who said racisim will always be around may be right. But old farmer john that is racist he has no affect on the black community. But a job recruiting officer may, Or a police officer like the one who tazzered a young man 9 times to death. So you cant always just deal with racisim.

    I think more than race what it really comes down to is money beyond anything I know I cant explain how I feel fully while im on this blog at work in my cubical lol but I was reading and felt like I could express and share thank you for the great journalism

    July 23, 2008 at 8:11 pm |
  8. Marty Fleming

    When my son began driving, I had to talk to him regarding his behavior behind the wheel.

    As a young driver, I was stopped numerous times while driving responsibly. I was just targeted to be stopped.

    After questioning my son, he admitted that he was also stopped many times for

    Racial profiling is alive and quite active.

    July 23, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  9. Jeff

    I believe the word you are looking for that means a mixture of black and white is "mulatto." Why not have a word that celebrates people that are bi-racial, a word that brings a person's mixed hertage together instead of denying it?

    July 23, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  10. Fay, CA

    If all your going to do is cry racism everytime something happens because your black, then go to another country.

    "Going to another country" wouldn't solve a thing, considering that racism against blacks is prevalent world-wide. It would be wonderful not to have a reason to ever "cry racism", but since blacks are still being discriminated against and treated unfairly by some of the same people who wish to remain in denial about racism, it only ensures that those "cries" will continue to be heard.

    July 23, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  11. Cherica

    I commend CNN and Soledad O'Brien for attempting to have an educated discourse about race relations in America. If I ever doubted the need for such a program "melting pot" of a nation and the growing numbers of equalities for all minority groups in this country, the ignorant and uneducated comments from some posters have proved me wrong. The prevalence of ignorance on this forum just demonstrates the need for such a program on national television to shatter the stereotypes we hold about Black America.

    July 23, 2008 at 8:08 pm |
  12. Tom

    As an African-American woman in America, I applaud CNN's decision to produce this series. African-Americans do not have an adequate platform to allow them to express their point of view. CNN is doing an admirable service to the African-American community by publishing our point of view.

    I will be watching tonight with my daughter.

    July 23, 2008 at 8:06 pm |
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