Saturday, May 25, 2024

Why now, for ‘Black in America?’

July 23, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( E-mails touting the much-publicized CNN documentary Black In America have so completely ambushed my computer over the last few weeks that I was forced to upgrade my antivirus software. Black In America, hosted by award winning CNN anchor/ reporter Soledad O’Brien and scheduled for airing on July 23 and 24, purports to examine the complex issues, successes, struggles, pain, and pride that black men, women and their families experience- 40 years after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

One e-mailer wrote, “I had the privilege of meeting with Soledad O’Brien and actually seeing this premier and what I saw brought tears to my eyes and anguish, frustration, and a sense of helplessness to my soul. I beg and plead with you to please watch this with your children, especially your sons.”

This, plus the persuasive pleas contained in the many other emails, ignited an overwhelming sense of black euphoria in me and a sacred obligation to support CNN (and its advertisers). That feeling was so strong that I immediately preprogrammed my TIVO for the scheduled dates.

One quote in the CNN promo material attributed to O’Brien caught my eye: “As we developed this series, it was critical to go beyond what viewers believe and already know to introduce them to the real people behind the headlines that we report every day on our assignments.” Very impressive.

One wonders, though, why this production has been selected for airing at this critical time in the presidential campaign. It has been in the making for months before the Obama candidacy was announced. Will the host of issues that confront Black America be less relevant or urgent on Nov. 5 than they are on July 23 and 24? I think not.

I began to ask myself is there anything substantially new to be learned about being black in America that hasn’t already been sliced, diced and dissected over the years by think tanks, civil rights organizations, activist groups, news organizations, historians and PBS? As I began to review that question for myself the elation of what Black In America could bring to my knowledge base at this precise moment in time began to diminish. In fact, a few negative connotations associated with the timing of the documentary began to appear.

I reflected on the annual definitive black reports published by organizations such as the National Urban League, the Pew Charitable Trust, United For A Fair Economy, and the U.S. Census Bureau. Then there were the well-documented books that included “The Hidden Cost of Being African American” by Thomas Shapiro, Dr. Claud Anderson’s “Black Labor/White Wealth,” not to mention the historical perspectives of intellectuals such as Foner, John Hope Franklin, DuBois, Douglas, and Booker T. Washington. These resources had informed me, updated me and painted a vivid portrait on being black In America. They documented and validated how the enormous racial wealth gap that perpetuates racial inequality in America and the methods of intergenerational transfer of wealth used to advantage by whites appear to make racial inequality a permanent American fixture.

The “benign neglect” strategies initially developed in response to the infamous Moynihan Report on the Negro Family that supported politically advantageous programs touted as correcting the black family disintegration pathologies but in reality were neutral or adverse have not been corrected. As a result, the sad statistics for black children born out of wedlock is still around 70 percent and that two thirds of black children live in a home without a father.

The Census Bureau tells us each year that more black men are dropping out of high school, being jailed at disproportionately high rates and suffering from chronic emotional instability. Black poverty rates seem to be fixed at three times the white rate.

Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and that disparity is growing larger each year. Black women, the cornerstone of the black family, now are approximately 70 percent of all new HIV diagnoses.

These and the other issues to be discussed in Black In America are important and need to be addressed by all Americans. But, the successful implementation of any change strategy depends on proper timing. America is standing on a teetering precipice trying to decide on a change in direction that could be as important as the constitution itself.

The Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has conducted a brilliant campaign over the past 18 months that positioned him and his carefully constructed political platform to appeal to the hopes and aspirations of all Americans. Black America must understand that in this election while its vote is needed Obama cannot be victorious without significant support from majority America. There are still many segments of the majority constituency that are looking for any excuse to validate both the long held racial bias that black is inferior and the perception that a black president will be predisposed to focus only on black issues.

Black In America, the groundbreaking documentary produced by CNN and hand delivered by the highly respected Soledad O’Brien, could turn out to be the Trojan horse that validates those stereotypes and undermines the potential for Barack Obama to become the first black president of the United States of America. There is no valid reason for Black In America to be in the national spotlight before Nov. 5.

Written By James W. Breedlove

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