Ode to CNN-Tell Me Something I Didn’t Know

by MullOverThis

CNN, you blew it. That is the nicest way I can encapsulate my sentiments against that farce of a special, “Black in America.” I was so disappointed in Part 1 that I could not muster up the strength to see Part 2, which by peer review, was worse than the first. Let me qualify my rant by saying I am far from the disgruntled Black American who is antagonistic against white media and looking for an opportunity to whine. What I am weary of is what my brilliant colleague referred to as potrayals of “black victimization”. In short, I was hoping CNN would take the needle off that victim record and show a side of Black America that whites have collectively yet to see or acknowledge.
When I saw the previews and internet video clips of the “special” (and I mean special here in a very tongue in cheek, short bus kind of way), I immediately thought finally, an accurate portrayal of blacks that Tyler Perry didn’t  write, would make its way into America’s living rooms. I had my fingers crossed that CNN would use the program as a means to display to white America that we are not all on welfare, having babies out of wedlock, getting shot over a game of skully, and basically broke, busted, and disgusted. I wanted to see blacks who achieved their goals of academic success, home ownership, united families, and upward mobility obtained without shaking, jumping, rapping, or disrobing. I wanted the motive for this greatness to be shown in light of rather than in spite of. Let me unpack this further. Which sounds better? Black success in light of an innate desire to realize our potential as productive citizens of these United States of America, a realization of our identity as a strong culture with much to offer the world, and a people who have every reason to love themselves OR black success in spite of the lengthy history of disenfranchisement at the hands of whites that led to impoverished neighborhoods, inequities in education, inner-city violence, and broken families? The former is an actualization of the philosophy of W.E.B DuBois who believed in order for a man (or in this case, a people) to take his place in the world–he must be himself.  Blacks have something to teach the world. DuBois believed in black potential, and it was not something to be conjured and nurtured only under harsh circumstances. It was something that blacks as human beings should have the proclivity to do. The latter is a further entrenchment of the idea that blacks are the perpetual victims of the residue left behind by white America’s domestic form of imperialism upon its own dark citizens, and therefore no matter what we overcome, our success is never independent of the variable of victimization.

So yes, I believe CNN only further embedded the stereotypes that have been floating around about blacks since European travelers and historians during antiquity and the medeival period chronicled the lives of Africans by telling wild tales of oversexed dark people who hop on one foot, dwell in caves, and communicated in screeches. This type of misinformation leads to a mythology that rationalizes and philosophicizes the supposed inferiority of a people. As far as I am concerned, the use of the word black in “Black in America” is not a reference to the people but rather the growing vacuum about what else it means to be black. Better luck next time.




Moderator’s Note:  This post is from a guest contributor, NIK. 


5 Comments to “Ode to CNN-Tell Me Something I Didn’t Know”

  1. CNN’s “Black in America” provided a cursory fall-short view of what African-Americans experience in America. Soledad and her crew did a fantastic job of finding a microcosm of African Americans to bring to life the issues that disproportionately plague the Black community. The struggling single mom, resident without health insurance, abortion rates, higher incidence of deaths caused by AIDS, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and so forth stood as real life indicators that being Black in America produces greater devastating results for us with the same issues that effect other races/ethnicities in America. Gangs, foreclosures, struggle to raise five children, and teenage pregancy and drug use knows no racial bounds in America. A trailer park white girl, and suburban Asian man could have watched the series and thought, well then, I must be black in America. Much of this coverage meant what is is to be alive and live (not necessarily as a black person) in America.

    The higher salt-sensitivity as a genetic predisposition to the modern progeny of African slaves who made it across the world in passage to America could not possibly be the explanation why African Americans are more likely to die, or live in abject poverty. CNN failed to go deeper and extrapolate or merely suggest the factors and causal relationships that continually render the great disparity between African Americans and other races/cultures. I’m not sure any network could accomplish this, when we haven’t mastered the answers ourselves. Our diet and propensity to exercise regularly must have some effect on our ability to manage stress and combat disease.

    In looking at what we do know, white apologists and enthusiasts are ready to transcend the once mountain now only a mole hill that lies between the races in many regards. The same apologists continue to cash in on higher compensation for commensurate experience, education and other factors in employment; they continue to host soirees on property stolen from our ancestors; and, they continue to bawl because a few white men can’t believe a brother or sister got a job or educational opportunity before them. This sense of entitlement (that job should have been mine) is asymptomatic and just a spoke on the wheel of of institutionalized racism. CNN did not want to perpetuate white guilt but chose to show people who continue to live in spite of. What Nik anticipated or hoped for, was completely optimal and not within the reach of this crew. They couldn’t even balance the scales with the normal stereotypical drama.

  2. As a media analyst, I was left to wonder: how does one define ‘blackness’? I wondered because what CNN showed barely resembled my own life experience, which leads me to conclude that it would have been impossible in four hours to really grasp the diaspora of the ‘Black’ experience. In defense of CNN, I believe that this is only the beginning of a greater exploration of blackness. So let’s keep that in mind. Personally, I don’t care how whites or any other race perceived the program because I don’t feel the need to explain the contents of it in my workplace or social settings. I, for one, understand that what truly afflicts us is a class struggle, and to that point, I underscore Nik’s desire to see our experience described in terms that have little to do with the “stereotypical” (but all too real) aspects of our community. True, CNN explored what many of us see on TV daily or read in print daily but none of those mentions really sought to find underlying causes and so CNN, at least, tried. But I digress. We, as black folks, really need to have a discussion about economic parity because the real argument about the soul of black folks is where it truly resides. Is it still in the ghetto or has it moved to a better neighborhood?

  3. I couldn’t agree more with your comments. I also saw an attempt to highlight some of the African American experiences and how we differ from other races and cultures. CNN made too many generalizations about the African American experience by only highlighting the negative and stereotypical ones. I believe that more should have been said about the racism we face on a daily basis because of the media and its role in continuing to support and display the many stereotypes.

  4. As long as there are programs that try to pit the black experience against the white experience, there will always be a color line that veils the humanity behind the races. I agree with the view that it is the economic factor that dictates the way one experiences America. On the other hand, one cannot deny the dualism that often marks African-Americans, as a whole. CNN should have dilved into that dualism just as Af. Am. art has. And if white awareness or guilt was CNN’s goal, then let’s talk about the frustations of never knowing whether or not success or failure came to one because of one’s blackness or lack of blackness. To be accussed of getting into an Ivy School or getting a high-paying job because the blackness of skin (or whiteness) is just as ugly as not getting into these institutions because of the same factor. I want my accomplishments and character be the factors of my success or failures, not the color of my skin. And to say I have a certain job or experience because I’m white or black is just wrong when I have earned the right to my own successes or failures. CNN should have focused more on the frustations of coming across ignorant, prejudiced people than on perpetuating the same old negative stereotypes. I mean, America, especially urban America, knows too intimately about the soaring crime rates, the aborations, the teen single mothers, and as someone pointed out these are not limited to black experience — rather this is a poverty experience no matter what the color. We will always play “tug-at-war” over the colorline as long as the media perpetuates negative stereotypes of whites and blacks as well as continues to define a victim-bully relationship between the races. Civil Rights movement brought us the awareness of that relationship, now we must strive to bring the CRM into a new generation, a new century, with understanding that we are all part of the same creation, which makes us kin. It is time we embrace our humanity, celebrate our myraid cultures, and look past the color barriers. It is time we understand how to truly live in “ONE nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all.”

  5. I don’t believe white guilt was CNN’s goal per se. It was certainly a boundary, and probably part of the mentality of people who were ultimately responsible for the checkmark and final edit of the series. The media is powerful and influential. It is not just some intangible being. The media is made up of PEOPLE whose thoughts affect what we see in print, online, on cable, radio and on tv. So, the media is an active part of perpetuating the tug of war, but symptomatic of what too many media-consumers (again who are people) think and tune into. In other words, the media is a participatory yet reflective agent which relays what too many racist people think. These same prejudiced people go to work and make decisions. They raise their children and try to perpetuate their thinking. The tides have certainly changed to calmer stiller waters. We are not in shackles or have to pray massa doesn’t want to lay with his slave tonight. So as we are on the road to liberty and justice for all, while we address black victimization, black self-hatred, the boot-strap way, individual responsibility, let us not be careful to ignore the institutionalized racism where real people still sit in board rooms edging out black people because they are black; where a black family still is undesirable by a co-op board that doesn’t want to see the neighborhood “go”; and, where FOX newsroom still has the guts to label Michele Obama as a “baby mama”. I am an ivy-league affirmative action baby whose stats were not comparable to other admittees. Neither where the stats of legacy students, who tended to be white privileged rich kids whose parents and family traditions included the ivy league way. (There is a great void of criticism for nepotism, where inadequate people are positioned everyday simply because they are related to the powers that be. ) I am PROUD OF my AFFIRMATIVE ACTION admission. FYI, affirmative action never showed up to ace my exams. Affirmative action didn’t pay the tuition either. Affirmative action didn’t write my papers. Affirmative action didn’t put me on the Dean’s list, repeatedly. My work efforts with the blessings and the grace of God get the credit. Had the scales not been weighted in my favor, another legacy student or regular admission would have received my place. Clearly, to the approval of my professors, most of whom are world-renowned and authorities in their fields, I was more than competent. I was often solicitied for my “thoughts” or “take” during discussions. Affirmative action programs help to “save” COMPETENT people (just like me) and give ACCESS to opportunities that they might otherwise never experience. It would be nice not to need affirmative action. I believe we should look past the color barriers. It is just difficult to do so, when we are still combatting racism on a daily basis. This battle does not stop because we ignore it. We still need policies in place to ensure that we can just focus on living to celebrate our uniqueness and commonalities with EQUITY and JUSTICE, one towards another.

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