I’m Black in America

I’m Black in America

First, before I really get to writing my thoughts that stem from my viewing of CNN’s Black in America, I have to say GO LUPE! Lupe makes me proud–if I didn’t already have his albums, I would buy them after his interview last night. πŸ™‚ Touch that young person, Lupe. πŸ™‚

Ok, so while they touched many more pressing issues than they did in the first installment, I think the slant/focus was really off. First the good: I’m happy they highlighted the young brother who was trying his best to find a job and even used the hidden camera to show what he faced in that quest–that in some places black men with no criminal records were on the same playing field with white men with records. I was happy that they showed how genuinely happy he was when he was offered a part time job just because he would have a way to contribute to his household. I really appreciated them showing that black men are not all deadbeat lazy bums because we know better than that. I was also happy they interviewed guys in prison that really did want to get out and try to do better with themselves. I appreciated Michael Eric Dyson’s brother admitting that it’s not just the environment in which you grow up–it’s also about the choices we make. I need my young brothers (and sisters) to hear that. I appreciated Spike Lee’s interview as well.

Ok on to my gripes… It befuddles me why all the families highlighted last night who were “doing well” were light-skinned and well-integrated in the white community. No, CNN, I didn’t miss that.

While I know that many black people have found their way out by assimilating into what they perceive as white America, I know too many families that have done well without trying to be white under the illusion of exposing their kids to diversity. Last night highlighted a family with two successful black parents, one a judge–the first BLACK woman judge in the friggin state and an assistant superintendent of schools, who spent 10 minutes crying as he told his story of growing up in the one and only Little Rock Central High School and how he was treated. And you mean to tell me that it is okay for him to have moved to a neighborhood where he gets “occasional stares” (in your neighborhood, a stare cannot be occasional… they live there, so they stare every time they see you), a neighborhood whose residents called the cops on him because he’s a couple (and only a couple) of shades darker than they are, and not expose his kids to other black kids who are smart, can talk well, and who are in families grooming them for success. Someone said last night, that maybe there weren’t any other families. Excuse me? Gimme a break. There are plenty of black folks in AR, and not all of them are poor. And in a place where the Assistant Superintendent is black and a judge is black, I know good and gosh dern well, they aren’t the only black folks doing well.

Personal experience: I grew up in a white public school district. YES their academic program was much better than the black public school district in the area. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your kids in the best environment for learning. But part of the environment for learning is seeing people that look like you and knowing that you’re not an anomaly. It’s a parent’s role to make sure a kid knows who they are, how others see them, and how they are responsible for giving back to their communities when they can. If you don’t train a child for civic responsibility, how will they grow up to do so? If you don’t show a child that they have more opportunities than others and that once they take advantage of those opportunities, they should reach back and create opportunities for others, how will they decide that they should when they’ve “made” it? If we don’t instill a sense of community in our kids at an early age, can we really be mad when they grow up to be selfish individuals who don’t look at themselves as an important part of a larger group? Ok, sorry for that digression…

In the 4th or 5th grade, I came home after a weekend with my Odyssey of the Mind teammates (all white except one other student), and I asked my mom why most black people were lazy and why I was smarter. After explaining to me that that was a total fallacy and trying to mask her anger that my being treated as a token black was getting to me, my mom PROMPTLY put me in extracurricular activities that put me around other smart black kids. I participated in science programs at various HBCUs with other gifted kids from around the state, I went to Vacation Bible School at my own church and at the church of one of my mom’s friends. I was in a black Girl Scout troop. My mom took me to Gateway and Salvation Army on holidays to help serve the unfortunate. That undoubtedly has contributed to my desire to give back my community, to leave it better than I landed in it. School is not our only means of education. And if it is, it can be quite dangerous. I could have grown up thinking that I was an exception–that the black folks around me were inferior and that all they needed to do was try a little harder. It maddened me last night to see that out of 3 boys, two were with white girls and the other was in jail… And I’m trying my best not to think that CNN had an underlying message there. As much time as they spent on black men during the black women segment, I don’t get why they couldn’t integrate black women in last night’s segment. Can we just acknowledge beyond showing a picture or two that there are black men out there that want and find black women to build their lives with?

Why didn’t they spend more time highlighting the black “power couple”? During the first installment, they did a better job of celebrating the black family–highlighting the couple that owned the construction company together and were raising their kids to value education. With this family, they said what they did as they were talking about the individual members of the family, then went on without exploring why this black “power couple” didn’t encourage their sons to find women like their mom. I don’t have a problem with interracial dating in general. But I do have a problem with people raising their kids to think that the white man’s ice is colder…

So, after the show, we had a brief discussion. I watched the series with a group of young professionals, and one thing that bothered me was the constant gripe about how CNN was not showing our lives, that of “middle class black America,” all the while acknowledging that we’re the minority of our minority population… I believe CNN (and my friend Dionne) did a good job of highlighting the spectrum. I mean for goodness sake, they showed entrepreneurs, they showed a Harvard economist, they showed that Hollywood single girl, they showed my future friend, Michael Eric Dyson, a professor. Come on. There’s no way they should have spent 4 hours of America’s time talking about black people who think they’ve “made it.” As long as the majority of my people are living without access to affordable health care, access to jobs, access to fresh food and are living check-to-check (which some of us self-proclaimed yuppies are doing as well), then I applaud anyone who wants to educate America, and remind those of us who think we’ve arrived, about our plight. They showed my mom, who works more than one job to make it. They showed my nieces and nephews, who are undoubtedly a part of the phenomenon of test scores lower than those of third world countries. They showed how Crack (versus Cocaine) has had an effect on our community. The documentary for me serves as a reminder. A reminder that the movement should not be over. That we still have a ways to go. That we have not made it and that we need to reach back and do our part to help us all move forward. Someone asserted that this documentary just serves to continue to project negative images of black people. I highly beg to differ. What would be the purpose of a skewed documentary showing the good life of blacks? To make people in America really think that we’ve come a further way than we have? To add to our false sense of security? To add to the rift between members of our own race? No, we need to see the reality and see that it’s not all self-induced. That we are still suffering from our past. We cannot make a difference under a national broadcast of the illusion of success. I hope that YP’s think about what they saw, and focus on what we can do about it rather focusing on why it wasn’t swept under the rug. It is a reality that we have to face if we want solutions.

I really appreciated the Clark Atlanta professor who shared his thoughts about the actual solution. So many times we hear why we need to find the solution, but people rarely talk about strategies. He stated that we need to start now steering the direction of the newest generation as the current young generation has already been steered to a certain extent. It is my fear that the rift between those who are doing well and those who are not is widening beyond comprehension. He said we need to wipe out some of this institutional programming guiding our young people and we need to get back to the basics so that we can reinvent ourselves. It’s time to figure out how to move back into community-thinking and not just me,me,me-thinking. Sigh, we have a long road.

I’ll be back with my take on being part of the 45% of black women who have never been married…