In the Midst of Being ‘Black in America’

This CNN special blew up bigger than they expected.  I’m quite sure.  I don’t know what to really say, I’ve heard both sides of the argument as far as how effective the special was.  But, guess what, I haven’t seen it in its entirety.  I fully saw the Essence/CNN panel last week, and I thought it was weak except for Cornel West and Julianne Malveaux, but these two never fail to deliver.

If I can go off on a tangent, one I’ve been dying to in a while: why is it that many blacks think that Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, Roland Martin, Marc Lamont Hill to name a few need to be quiet–not to mention Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson

 Until the day black people own a media outlet that produces quality programming for black viewers (hopefully TvOne is headed in that direction; Lord only knows what direction BET is headed) then I all for black individuals that challenge traditional thoughts concerning race, religion and politics in this country.

Even some of my fellow bloggers, of whom I still respect, think that Dyson is just too much.  One told me he uses too many big words–and this was from someone who was college educated.  Well, okay, perhaps Dyson should be a bit more aware of his audiences, but how can we decry uneducated youth, but we don’t challenge the youth to be educated?  Our community response to Dyson is, “Don’t use big words”  what’s wrong with telling the kids to go look up the word in the dictionary and expand their vocabulary or taking the time to teach about context clues?

Another blogger informed me that they read one of his books but they weren’t all that impressed.  Now, I don’t know which book it was, but I just finished reading Come Hell or High Water and Is Bill Cosby Right? and I thought the books were a breath of fresh air compared to the warmed-over, stale analysis of most things pop culture.  Even if you don’t agree with the guy, you gotta give him credit for an intelligent critique of two watershed marks in black culture.  I would love for him to take on the Jeremiah Wright controversy as one of his book topics.

This is not to defame these fellow bloggers or to even suggest that they are anti-intelligence, but I just wonder what is it about these people that have gotten under many black people’s skin.  Is it that black folk simply don’t pick up books written by these people and allow MSM as the only source from which to draw opinions?  Is it simply how MSM has portrayed these people?  Do many blacks have fundamental disagreements with him?  Is it that Dyson simply talks too fast?  Or is it that we as black folk are comfortable in our collective confusions?

What I don’t get is that everytime someone disagrees with someone else, then they’re labeled a hater.  Jesse Jackson disagrees with Barack Obama on his relationship with the black community–he’s labeled a hater.  Personally, I agreed with Jesse Jackson, not on the castration part, and my friend told me I was “just hatin.'”  So, am I hatin’ now because I disagree with those who think that those Popes of Blackness I listed above should be quiet, but I think that they should feel free to continue speaking as they are. 

If a reader can tell me two black individual who has a network evening news show (ABC, NBC, CBS) or a cable news show (CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC) then I’ll be glad to retract my statement.  Or name me five black pundits, and the pundits are defined as individuals called to sit on Sunday morning shows or those asked to go tete-a-tete with others of polarizing viewpoints.

I guess that’s the end of my tangent.

My problem with these “specials” is that it divides community reactions.   There are those who apparently felt that it focused too heavily on “ghetto” living, when despite numbers in the black community being disproportionately high, the majority of blacks don’t live in ghettoes.  There are those who felt that the special rang hollow because there was not a segment devoted specifically to the black church, just mere mentions of church.  There were also those who felt that they focused to heavily on the black male and all the ills that accompany black men: prison numbers versus college enrollment; unwed fathers versus plain ol’ absentee fathers, without taking into account that it “takes two to tango” and completely victimizing the role of the black woman, almost at the expense of the black man.

Well, all that really proves is that we’re not a monolithic community (although for some reason when it comes to presidential elections, around 90% of us, give or take a perecentage point up or down, always vote for the Democratic candidate in recent election years).


For me that proves my reasoning that this should not have been crammed into two-days.  The achievements and failures of the black community should not and can not be relegated to a two day special with an average panel as the lead-in the week before.  I am simply insulted.  I feel that my blackness was only worth two days to a major network.  Clearly I’m pissed because essentially I’m writing the same feelings as I did prior to Wednesday night’s first segment. 

I would have rather Soledad say, either a week or no deal, but I’m pretty sure like another friend of mine (who hasn’t demostrated that he is the most politically astute) or the lady who called Big Tig this afternoon said “well we have to start somewhere.”   That sounded like the most steppin fetchit bamboozled crap I’d heard in a long time, and this was from someone who taught in DC public schools for some 20 years.   What did she mean “we have to start somewhere?”  We been starting since 1865!!  Hell, the finish line should be in view by this point in the journey.  

I’m sick and damn tired of okey-doke Negroes who are just happy for a bone thrown from massa’s table.  Dammit, I think I’ve earned the privilege to sit at the table and are entitled to a full course meal!

Okey-doke Negroes who are merely happy with doing something here and there, appeasing themselves and patting themselves on the back with some minor contribution to society.  Roland Martin got to hollering on Campbell Brown’s show about “how we still have a long way to go” and that it’s time for “action.”  It was kind of nice to see a bit more passion behind Martin’s usual jeremiads.

At this point in the journey, we’ve discussed about as much as can be discussed; we’ve had enough prayer breakfasts; we’ve had more than enough townhall meetings; we’ve had enough randomly assembled panels.  Essentially, we’ve done the traditional thing, so let’s try something new and actually do something.  I think Martin Luther King’s assesment of the Good Samaritan on the Jericho Road in his April 4, 1967 speech at the Riverside Church is approriate:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

But, see, this is the hard part.

I, in my own finite wisdom don’t have the answer on how to transform the Jericho road.  We as blacks all know what needs to be changed, but we’ve got to move from the what to the how it needs to be changed. 

It was easy for the teacher to call in to WPGC this afternoon and go off on Big Tig for falling asleep on Thursday night’s segment on Black in America because he said “it wasn’t intriguing.”  He said usually things that are intriguing hold his interest.  Now, I don’t know what background Tig has, he doesn’t scream to me of being some bastion of blackness, but how he said that it wasn’t intriguing came off to me as him trying to get around saying that the show was some BS and really didn’t amount to anything.  I didn’t get the impression that this was some bootleg ig’nant comment like Yung Berg’s comments about light skinned women and the “pool test” or the general ignorance that David Banner displayed on Hip-Hop Vs. America, Pt. 2 and somehow resurrected from some long deceased Uncle Tom of years past, but rather that this special amounted to nothing more than, as AverageBro said, intellectual masturbation.

I don’t even think it was worthy of that.

Well, comments are what makes blogging interesting.  So if you have taken the time to read this article, I would REALLYappreciate it if you left a comment.  It would provide the opportunity to open dialogue between other readers.  Yeah, go ahead, take the five minutes and write down how you feel, and get it off your chest.  Even if you disagree with everything I said, I’d love to hear from you.  Annnnnd, if it sounds like I’m begging, I am.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

13 thoughts on “In the Midst of Being ‘Black in America’

  1. Since you ask, I’ve been reading your posts pretty regularly for several months now. I enjoy them. Sorry I don’t have interesting comments to add — haven’t seen the special yet.

  2. I’ve noticed that some of the women bloggers (african american or whatever else they are calling us this week) are upset over the type of women that were seen on the series. Not that I’m trying to get brownie points with the ladies but I have to agree with them. I really don’t think that the series in general told black folks anything new. I have heard the suggestion that maybe it was for white folks. Then I have to wonder well how many white folks actually watched? To do black folks justice and tell the story that should be told it would have to be longer than a week. But I do want to know, do you think that women got a raw deal out of Soledads series?

  3. The docuseries left something to be desired. You said it best–it victimized the black woman at the black man’s expense. I still have not been able to gather my thoughts about the series to write about it on my blog; I probably won’t do it. I can respect how CNN put together the black man’s portion, but it did not tell the black community anything we did not already know. Like citizen said above, it was for mainstream America, but how many people, other than blacks, watched it?

    Also, I’m not sure how many people watched the Black in America special from earlier this year, but CNN used the same stories from it for these specials. They just added a little more detail. I felt cheated, like they did not want to do anymore research to find different stories. This was a 18 month project and the result was 2 days. There is something wrong with that.

  4. @citizen ojo

    As citizens of this country we operate off of stereotypes–plain and simple. It’s a hard battle to fight stereotypes and focus on the archetypes.

    And moreover, someone from Soledad’s point of view, its okay to view black women through this lens, so I would say that yes black women got a raw deal. From the woman who was trying to get her baby’s father to marry her, to the one who had one that thought buying pampers was being a father and even to the black woman who co-wrote “Something New” saying that “there are no good black men” those were all stereotypes.

    I’m not going to put ALL of the blame on Soledad, but clearly, she was instrumental in helping make the stereotypes a reality despite the facts that contradict them.


    That was my ultimate problem with this series–all of this for just two days. I’m still insulted.

  5. i forget which Dyson book it was I read. It was one of the older ones, I think it was about Malcolm X, but I’m not positive. When i finished I thought it was a decent read, but I didn’t think it was outstanding.

    My problem now is that I’m tired of him being the go-to guy for any and every issue that deals with black people. He’s basically become and expert on being black, and I would rather not have that power vested in one man.

  6. @Big Man

    Well, I agree with you on that one. But I think that’s an inherent problem black people world wide have. EVERY TIME we open our mouths we act as a representative of our ENTIRE culture and race.

    I wouldn’t necessarily fault Dyson however, but rather that structures (MSM for one) that are in place that provide visual and audio fodder to give him a platform. By the same token, black people almost play a part in parcel role. Historically, we’ve always had “leaders.” Someone, who by assimilation tactics rose to a level that garnered attention by whites. I mean one could start back with a Frederick Douglass who was an orator by European standards, a Booker T. Washington, even a DuBois who were lifted up by blacks, or should I say Negroes, but also elevated by whites as well.

    I don’t have a pat answer as to how to break the cycle. But as for me, I’m happy to see a brotha up there who’s intelligent and has a friggin Ph.D. and smart as hell and not afraid to criticize the government, nor take to task black people–whether or not I agree with him on all points or not, for me he’s a great example of what black men can achieve.

    But yeah, I hear ya–he’s always the go-to guy.


  7. Joshua, I have to applaud you for your thoughtfulness in this post. You continue to be a blessing to the blogosphere.

    I also agree with your spirit of your reflections. Personally, I’m just saddened that our community always feels the need to focus on personalities rather than perspectives. I think this is one of things you’re trying to push readers to consider in this article.

    In my opinion “fruitful substance” can cover a multitude of perhaps “flashy style”.

    By the way, I think I can name five Sunday morning pundits: Eugene Robinson, Clarence Paige, Cynthia Tucker, Gwen Ifill, and Juan Williams with Ron Allen as honorable mention.

  8. @B Michael Honor

    oh yes, Sister Ifill, I had forgotten about her.

    Does Ron Allen count as a pundit or just a reporter?

  9. I found this site because I was looking for the t-shirt company of the same name, and stumbled upon this site. First of all, I am not at all threatened by M. Dyson’s speaking and vocabulary. Personally, I enjoy the fact that there is someone out there who can view hip hop from an intellectual perspective. I saw bits and pieces of the special, and I really dont think that two hours, like 28 days, will ever be enough for the black story. Hopefully, shows like this will encourage the otherwise unenlightened to learn a little bit more about their history. After all, before Malcolm X, there was Nat Turner. The fight did not start in the 1950’s and it will not end in 2008.

    In my opinion, Black people need to stop thinking so small. I wish some of these athletes and others with millions would start/acquire financial facilities. Then we may start to have our own tv channels and magazines of substance. I cannot be happy with just “a seat at massa’s table”. I’m going to build my own house, so that way I decide who comes to dinner. I don’t believe it’s a white man’s world. It’s my world, and If I can get others to think the same way, half the battle would be over.

  10. @D. Dean


    My African American history professor in undergrad was quite clear about calling the period from 1948-1965 the “modern” civil rights movement. She said the Africans brought over here as slaves had been fighting for civil rights from the moment they were brought over here.

    Okay, I will ask this question.

    If by building one’s “own house” does it set up a dichotomy, of one house against another?

  11. I find it absurd, that in 2008,we are even having a discussion about race relations. We expect other nationalities to assimilate into our society but now promote and embrace singularly black television stations, college funds, magazines etc. that do nothing to support our similarities, but do everything to to keep us separate.
    I am also disturbed by the constant use of the term “African American”. I would say that the average black American is no more African than I am. We are our skin color is the loud and clear message that this sends. Our identity is the color of our skin. This goes against every ounce of progress of the last fifty years. Africa is a place, not a race.
    I was born in Scotland. My ancestors were raped, murdered, starved and driven out of our land. I do not need or want a Scottish magazine, Scottish television station or anything else to me feel better about the suffering of my people. I also, if asked, call myself white. I have no need to call myself a European American, Scottish American or any other ridiculous term.
    The advancement of race relations will come by our pride in being Americans. The mutual understanding of our worth to our common society. Black pride, to me, is as ridiculous as “white pride” and just as offensive. It’s time to move on people. It’s time to end this silliness and move forward as Americans.

  12. @John

    I do believe that our similaries are there and that there are not enough rainbow coalitions in existence that promote them, however, I don’t believe that the conversation is absurd.

    I think one must understand that our descendants are the only persons present in this country as a result of forced immigration in the form of the Middle Passage and slavery. The black owned businesses, colleges, magazines etc are the direct product of de jure and de facto segregation that prevented blacks from shopping and owning businesses, from getting a collegiate education and from not being able to tell our story.

    I would also like to correct the seeming assumption that all-black institutions are racially divisive. Never have any all black institutions been racially discriminatory, in fact it was quite the opposite that it was the all white institutions that discriminated creating the need for all black institutions. In fact, many HBCUs were created by benevolent whites who realised during Reconstruction that blacks could never get a fair shake coming out of slavery.

    Also, there are very many African retentions in African Americans regarding the institution of the Black Church.

    I’m all for moving forward, but I feel that we as a country will not be able to move forward once we collectively realise, acknowledge and deal with the fact that racism and racial prejudices still exist and are pervasive in our lies.

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