CNN's Black in America 2 Reveals More Problems Than Solutions

BlogHer Original Post

There is a lot of online consternation for CNN's Black in America Pt.2. Some early skepticism was justified after last year's series, where people complained that it was focused too much on the poor and struggling, shedding an uncomfortable, shiny light to a wide audience (IE: white people) the issues concerning African-American populations. Middle-class and rich black folks were embarrassed, wondering when their lives would be narrated.

The only problem I had with last year's episode was their segment on black women was too short, heavily edited and seemed to be forced, like someone told the producer, 'oh, you forgot about........' But that's just me.

So I watched last night's episode and it was a tad drawn out, but interesting. I especially enjoyed the first hour, where Soledad O' Brien traveled to South Africa with a group of New York teenagers. The kids were part of a community volunteer organization run by Chris Rock's wife, Malaak Compton-Rock and part of their volunteer work in South Africa consisted of spending time at children shelters. To show the children how impoverished the lives of the kids (and a few mothers) were, made them think about not giving up, despite their challenging situations in America.

Before last night's episode ran, there was already a lot of hullabaloo on the 'Net. What was this year going to be like? Writing for The Retort, The Black Snob's Danielle Belton weighs in and in sheds an interesting opinion on the above segment:

I simply felt like I'd seen all this before. The segments felt safe, uneven and dull. Large swaths of substantial information was missing like statistics, the number of students attending one charter school and the size of its graduating class, a real examination of the complex relationship between wealthy blacks and the rest of black America. An explanation how an ambitious program by Malaak Compton Rock could demand no grades at first, then expect students to succeed by overseas osmosis without any follow-up, help, tutors, counselors or motivation. By cramming four complex stories together, none seemed to get told completely or well.

Carmen Dixon from Black Voices' Black Spin liked the program for some of the reasons others were critical:

I had the good fortune to attend a preview screening of selected segments from the series. I liked what I saw. Unlike the first installation last year, this time the series appears to focus on people who've taken their fates into their own hands in a way that serves our larger American community.

Some, like Colored Girl Speaks insinuated that perhaps O'Brien, whom apparently just purchased a kick-ass loft in New York's Chelsea district was the wrong person to host the show. Gay Black Canadian Man felt that because of O'Brien's Cuban/Irish heritage that she shouldn't have hosted the show:

I find it interesting that CNN has a “mixed race woman” Soledad O’ Brien as the “host” of the series on “black America”.Why is O”Brien the host anyway? The quandary is O’Brien is not “really” a part of “black America”, she’s on the outside “looking in”.What does O’Brien know about “what” it means to be “black” anyway?

O’Brien is so pale she can almost pass for  white.

Haters! To be fair, I found that last year, O'Brien seemed distant and almost critical to the people interviewed in last year's program. In last night's show, she did seem to warm up a bit, and was very emotional with the children in South Africa.

Some, like Rosetta Thurman felt that the program might shed light on community and social activism, that despite the recent goings-on that issues specifically concerning black folks might now be dismissed because of the Obama presidency:

It’s important for those of us who care about social justice issues to understand the how the issues play out for people of color. Are we living in a “post-racial” America?

Black in America 2 - and basically any program / TV show / movie that purports to show the 'black experience' is going to fail. You simply cannot show the diversity of a population in a four-hour program, or a two-hour movie. There will always be those who feel slighted because their lives are not portrayed, and those who will be embarrassed, feeling that instead of trying to eliminate racial stereotypes these programs inadvertently enhance them. You can't win, I guess.

Latino in America debuts in October on CNN. Can't wait!

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