“What Black Is…” – Looking At CNN’s Black In America

07.25.08 10 years ago 39 Comments

Words By David D.

I am not gonna lie. I was initially skeptical when I saw the previews to CNN’s Black in America show. It’s not that I thought the concept was bad or formed out of some hidden racism. I give Soledad O’Brien the benefit of the doubt for how she was going at folks over the Katrina debacle.

It was one sentence (swiped from MTV’s Diary show) that struck a bad chord with me:

“You think you know. You have no idea.”

This statement seemed to imply that the documentary was speaking to a group of people unfamiliar with blackness in America, most notably white people.

After watching the piece on the Black man, I feel as though my hesitation was founded. Granted, the low-end of the expectation was that the documentary would showcase a hidden underbelly of savagery and dependency for the White man to save. I can assure you that this was not the case. However, as a Black man I feel as thought Black in America offered nothing new to me. When I asked Gottyâ„¢ if he was watching, he replied “I ain’t watch it. I was busy being Black…in America.” Unfortunately, he was right.

I learned nothing new about the Black experience in America. There are good fathers, absent fathers, crackheads and businessmen who are all black and experience a shitload of racism. While this may come as a shock to some Americans, twenty-two years of living has made all of this anything short of ground-breaking. I’m sure there were a lot of families watching the documentary, appalled at the daily lives of the African-American. Unfortunately, that’s whom the documentary was catered to.

To truly make this an eye-opening experience, CNN could have benefited from some in-depth, historical contextualizing. Let’s look at the history of the N-word. The roots of misogynistic lyrics that go back centuries. Let’s get anthropological and find out why things are the way they are. These historical facts are new to a lot of African-Americans as opposed to the fact that cops sometimes arrest Black men for no reason.

CNN definitely tried to make a great documentary. There was nothing offensive to it. It didn’t demean Black people or ask for a handout. It told a fair and balanced story. However, the story was nothing new or ground-breaking. In forty years, people will be able to look back and see the Black experience in America in 2008. For that, CNN deserves all the praise in the world. Unfortunately for us Black people currently living in America, the documentary failed to provide any new insight.

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